Finding Purpose in Redirection
Many parents dream of their children becoming a doctor or lawyer. Chima Onwuka ’22 experienced this firsthand. He even began his college career in a premed program. He realized almost immediately that it wasn’t his passion. Like many undergraduates, Onwuka struggled to identify what he wanted to pursue.
“I asked myself what I could do for free, that I wouldn’t even need to be paid for. I can just wake up every day and genuinely enjoy doing it,” he says. “I wanted to help people. Whether it be mentally, emotionally, or even through mentorship.”
That led to a conversation with peers who suggested he become a therapist. Raised in a community where mental health was almost a taboo, Onwuka was stunned at their suggestion. Switching his major to psychology made a drastic difference in his interest and academic performance.
Spreading Awareness Through Profession
After graduating from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville in 2017, Onwuka knew he needed a master’s degree to become a practicing counselor. After a lot of due diligence, he found that many in his profession had completed online programs. Walden was in his top three, and a conversation with an enrollment specialist sealed the deal.
“We had to have been on the phone for almost two hours,” Onwuka recalls. “I was just so impressed with the way all my questions were answered. I also felt a genuine interest in what I wanted to do, not only in my career but in my community. I believed Walden could help get me there.”
While working toward his master’s, Onwuka founded Grind City Kicks, an online sneaker and apparel brand committed to deep community outreach. He also began spreading awareness about the importance of mental health alongside prominent figures in the greater Memphis area.
“The biggest speaking engagement was the one I did with Governor Bill Lee and the mayor of Memphis at the 9th Annual Suicide Conference in the Black Church,” Onwuka says. “I shared my professional outlook and sought to effectively convey why there shouldn’t be a negative connotation around counseling and therapy in our community.”
A Walden MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate, Onwuka is now a clinical therapist for Youth Villages, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families. He counsels adolescents who have faced legal trouble due to behavioral instability and a lack of familial support. When asked what he enjoys the most about his work, Onwuka answers, “finding the strength and the positivity in these kids. As a counselor, I don’t like to highlight the weaknesses. I’d rather focus on what you’re good at, what you enjoy doing, and what you’re hopeful toward.”
Grind City Cares
After finding success in his business efforts with Grind City Kicks, he was inspired to start a nonprofit, Grind City Cares, that is equally successful in giving back to the community. Through Grind City Cares, he has hosted back-to-school drives, organized fundraising concerts with signature artists from Memphis, and partnered with charitable organizations to feed families and provide resources.
Most notably, he raised money selling “Stay Safe” T-shirts during the pandemic. That broadened his reach. “We were selling these T-shirts all around the country, from Michigan to California to Denver,” Onwuka recalls. “We’ve never sold that many items around the U.S. With that, we were able to write a check to a charitable organization in the community that provides food, cleaning supplies, and other commodities to families in need.”
Onwuka continues to organize events and uplift his community by advocating for mental health and sharing his inspiring journey through entrepreneurship.
“15-year-old me would’ve never placed me here. It’s crazy to think all I wanted to do before college was play football,” he says. “I even remember being scared to tell my parents I was switching my major. Now they’re proud of everything I’m doing, and I’m grateful I could still give them that sense of pride while living in my truth.”
Chima Onwuka (right) receives Walden’s Citizenship Award from Board of Directors Chair Toni Freeman.
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