“Just tell my story.”
Those were the last words that Michael Muchioki told his best friend and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brother Kenneth Simpson before Mike and his fiancée Nia Haqq were heinously gunned down by three assailants in front of their Jersey City home hours after their engagement dinner and party April 4, 2010.
Just two months after the crime, Kenneth worked with the couple's family members and friends to create the non-profit organization, the LoveMikeNia Foundation in their honor. Two years later, Kenneth is still finding new ways to tell Mike’s story and working to ensure Nia’s memory is never forgotten.
In an interview with EBONY.com, Kenneth shared how the legacy of his friends and the LoveMikeNia Foundation are changing lives in New Jersey.
KENNETH SIMPSON: Every year, we host a scholarship banquet and give scholarships to two college students – one from Mike’s school, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and one from Nia’s school, the College of New Jersey. We work with the Equal Opportunity Fund Directors from each school and give them character traits of Mike and Nia and ask them to find potential candidates with a 2.5 G.P.A. or better and we interview them. We select the two recipients based on their community service involvement, their drive and their scholastic achievement – all traits Mike and Nia had. The Foundation decided to have the banquet on the weekend when [Mike and Nia] would’ve gotten married, so every year it’s like a permanent wedding reception for them.
To date, the Foundation has awarded four college students the LoveMikeNia Foundation Memorial Scholarship Award. As the Foundation grows and raises money, we want to give out more scholarships per year. That way, not only will we be helping more students, we’ll also be sharing their story and their legacy with more people.
EBONY: To have this Foundation up and running so soon after this tragedy is really a remarkable feat. How were you and Mike and Nia’s other loved ones able to pull this organization together so quickly?
KS: My adrenaline was pumping so much. I was in such a daze after the tragedy happened in April. By June, we had an organization. It was crazy and I couldn't do that again. But at the time, I think I really poured my heart and soul into that vision and I refused to have my friend and his fiancée to just be another murder in Jersey City. I just thought, “That's not going to happen.” I know too many people that die and we just forget about them.
People tell me all the time, “Your friendship with Mike was like a training ground for the rest of your life. Everything you do, you can see Mike in it.”
EBONY: So after you have this adrenaline rush and this high that allows you to put this organization together in two months, did you experience any sort of emotional crash once you’d accomplished your goal?
KS: It's funny that you say that. That’s exactly what happened. It was a crash.
EBONY: How were you able to heal from that?
KS: I had to take all of that energy and focus that I had given to the Foundation and put it on me and taking care of myself. [Mike] taught me that you can be cool and you can be a positive impact on your community, so it was like I came off that high and channeled these different emotions of grief and sadness and happiness about our friendship to do something good. I took all the life lessons and experiences I shared with Mike and decided I needed to make an impact in my own community and city.
I was first appointed to serve on the board of directors of the [non-profit organization] Paterson Task Force for Community Action, Inc., in Paterson, New Jersey, [which has been providing a wide variety of services to the poor and less fortunate in Paterson since 1964]. Once I became comfortable in that position, I started pursuing a role within my city where I could use my civil engineering experience. The Mayor of Paterson [Jeffery Jones] said to me, “I see something in you. I'm going to appoint you to the Historic Preservation Board Commission.” That Commission is charged with evaluating, promoting and preserving the city’s historic environment. Soon after, I received another appointment to serve on the Passaic County Planning Board as a commissioner. That placed me in charge of all county roads, bridges parks and facilities. I'm now doing what Mike and I had talked about throughout our ten-year friendship. People tell me all the time, “Your friendship with Mike was like a training ground for the rest of your life. Everything you do, you can see Mike in it.”
EBONY: What role did his death play in how you view and use time?
KS: It definitely altered my perception of time. I see time differently now. I see now that you can literally be here today and gone tomorrow. So when I want to do something, I do it. I don't talk about