OCPA’s Fears Fellows are making an impact
Rick Farmer, Ph.D. | April 17, 2023
In early March, alumni of the J. Rufus Fears Fellowship descended on the Capitol in Oklahoma City to encourage lawmakers to support giving parents greater control of their children’s education. As the Fears Fellowship has grown the concept has evolved.
The primary purpose of the fellowship is to identify and train the next generation of conservative leaders for Oklahoma. Over the past couple of years, the Fears Fellowship has become much more than training. What began as an effort to give young conservatives a stronger foundation in the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and basic economics has become an effective network of like-minded activists. And, they are finding ways to express themselves at the Capitol and around the state.
More than 260 young leaders have completed the program. The group includes attorneys, school administrators, pastors, political professionals, public administrators, students, and more. Their interests range from law enforcement to space travel. They are not just leading in government; they are leading across all sectors in our state.
OCPA is facilitating their ongoing activities through our Fears Fellowship Alumni group. We organize regular meetings among the Fears alumni, both in Oklahoma City and in Tulsa. We invite them to numerous OCPA activities, like this year’s Citizenship Award Dinner on April 26. We host social media sites to keep them communicating with each other. And we organize action days, like the recent Fears Day at the state Capitol. All of this provides them an opportunity to be engaged and allows them to continue developing their network of friends.
The effort is paying off. During the 2022 election cycle many of our Fears Fellows were actively engaged in campaigns for both statewide and local candidates. Since the election, several have been offered jobs in state government. The newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ryan Walters, has hired three Fears Fellows full time and has another on his political team. Governor Kevin Stitt’s recently hired political director is also a Fears Fellow.
Other conservative groups have found the Fears Fellowship to be a good place to recruit employees. Some of our fellows are students. Americans for Prosperity has hired several of them to do part-time work. Other coalition partners used Fears Fellows during the campaign.
The Fears Fellowship has inspired some to run for office. For example, Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson said the fellowship provided him the foundation and encouragement to run. Specifically, he said, “You need to understand the founding principles, and that is what Fears Fellowship did.” Oklahoma City Councilwoman Barbara Moore also credits the fellowship with inspiring her to run. She called it “food for the soul.”
Most of the Fears Fellows will never run for office. Most will make a difference in their communities, their churches, and their schools. They are truly impacting every part of our state.
The fellowship begins with a kickoff dinner and keynote speaker. These speakers have included Governor Kevin Stitt, Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell, Congressman Kevin Hern, Corporation Commissioner Kim David, and several other key figures. For each session fellows are asked to watch a video lecture by Dr. Fears. He is a legend and many of his lectures are available online. They engage in group activities and hear from special speakers. Several of our alumni have returned to the fellowship as guest speakers for a new crop of fellows. Although the program is not specifically for students, 11 Oklahoma universities give their students academic credit for completing fellowship.
The Fears Fellowship is encouraging participants to think critically—to think for themselves and not just follow the culture. As Tulsa Fears Fellow Reagan Strohm said, “I enjoyed the speakers who spoke on so many different areas of study and pushed me to think beyond what I’ve currently been thinking.” Enid Fellow Rachel Yost said, “What makes Fears worthwhile to me is being able to have discussions [with others] who have different perspectives from me but share my values.” Chris Mims said, “Fears Fellowship made it worthwhile by finding like-minded individuals who would critically engage with you, for the purpose of building each other up.”
“It was a community where we grew together in knowledge and in our personal beliefs,” said Nikki Gooden. “We were challenged by those around us to prove our opinions or look at other perspectives. It gave me an opportunity to be stronger for what I stand for and change some of my opinions that did not have a strong standing.”
Regarding the content of the Fears Fellowship, Chris Mims said, “I have already been using this stuff even in my college classes.”
Many of the fellows have never been exposed to economics from a free-market perspective. Braeden Cook said the Fears Fellowship “has also given me a better understanding of economics that will help me to better consider public policy.” Rachel Yost cited “a better understanding of economics” as her most important takeaway from the fellowship.
But it is the networking and friendships that stand out most. “The opportunities to network with others made it all worthwhile,” according to Gabe Woolley. Reagan Strohm said, “I’m so glad I was able to be a part of Fears, since I was able to meet so many new people and build relationships that will last.”
Fears Fellows are also taking the message into their communities. Vickie Stitt works with students at Langston University. She said, “I plan to use what I learned in the Fears Fellowship to encourage and challenge college students that I work with to be more involved and educated in the issues that matter to them.”
Through the Fears Fellowship we are developing a network of young conservative leaders who are already making a difference in Oklahoma. They are serving inside state government, others are serving in the community. They are connecting with each other and growing their ranks in ways that enhance their influence. Oklahoma will be a better place because of the effort these young leaders are making.
OCPA is planning a Fears Fellowship cohort in Durant beginning on July 11. Another group will form in Tulsa on September 16. The next Oklahoma City cohort will be in 2024. Encourage dynamic young conservative leaders to get involved.
Rick Farmer, Ph.D.
Dean of the J. Rufus Fears Fellowship
Dr. Rick Farmer serves as OCPA’s Dean of the J. Rufus Fears Fellowship. Previously, Rick served as director of committee staff at the Oklahoma House of Representatives, deputy insurance commissioner, and director of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission. Earning his Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma and tenure at the University of Akron, Rick can best be described as a “pracademic.” While working full-time in the Oklahoma government, he continued to teach and write. He served as president of the Oklahoma Political Science Association and chairman of the American Political Science Association’s Practical Politics Working Group. In 2016, he was awarded the Oklahoma Political Science Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Farmer has appeared on CNN, NBC, MSNBC, C-SPAN, BBC Radio, and various local news outlets. His comments are quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and numerous local newspapers. He is the author of more than 30 academic chapters and articles and the co-editor of four books.