Face of the Week: Overlea High School senior Ezinne Ibekwe
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Face of the Week: Overlea High School senior Ezinne Ibekwe

It all began with an apple. Or, rather, with Ezinne Ibekwe’s rendition of an apple, in kindergarten, near her home in the Imo state of southern Nigeria, just north of the delta where the river Niger empties into the sea.  

“It was the first day of kindergarten, and our teacher asked us to draw, and I drew an apple,” says Ibekwe, 18 now and sitting in an art studio at Overlea High School where she is a senior. “I kind of sat back and stared at that apple I’d drawn for a while, and I told myself, ‘Wow, what a beautiful apple I made.’ And I’ve been drawing ever since.”

Her love of art has not only followed her – to America (where she moved to as a child with her mother), through city schools, Parkville Middle, and finally Overlea, and to a pre-college program at the Maryland Institute College of Art this past summer – it has pushed her, too. In order to attend the prestigious MICA program, which included room and board and long, intensive days of study, she began a “Go Fund Me” campaign that quickly netted the $3,900 she needed to supplement her scholarship, including support from throughout Overlea’s staff and an anonymous $3,000 contribution.

“Seeing the support here, it made me feel like the teachers cared so much,” Ibekwe says. “They were more excited than I was about me going.”

Around Overlea, Ezinne is called Blossom. It’s not a nickname, she says; it’s her middle name – given to her by her mother, Eucharia, who heard it once, wrote it down in her journal, and tucked it away for when her daughter was born. The name, say those who know her, fits her perfectly.

“Blossom?” says Karen Springston, who greets visitors in Overlea’s front office. “Oh, you’re in for a treat. She’s really something. She’s destined for great things, and she’s one of the nicest people you will ever meet. She’s one of those people who, when they are doing something, they’ve got to give 210 percent.”

“She’s very charismatic,” adds her art teacher, Katie Fisher. “She strives for success, and her success is based on a belief in herself; she’s very driven. . . . With Blossom, you know she’ll get it done.”

There is a lot Blossom wants to get done. She plays soccer and runs indoor and outdoor track for Overlea, is class and school historian in the school’s student government association, and belongs to both the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Overlea’s “It Girls,”a new organization of the school’s women leaders who seek to help female classmates reach their potential. She is part of Overlea’s parallel enrollment program with the Community College of Baltimore County, and she has her sights set on someday attending Howard University.

Still, art comes first. Near her in Overlea’s art classroom sit huge oil and acrylic paintings – a self-portrait adorned with blue braids and a big smile and a whimsical painting of Ebekwe and her cousin wearing social media “filters” – a cat’s nose, sunglasses, a Dalmatian’s floppy ears. They were summer projects at MICA, where she received an “A” and three college credits, but she has work to do on both, still; she admits to being “deliberate” as an artist.

“I like to get as realistic as possible in my art,” she says, “and that takes time.” A fan of portraiture and still life, Blossom counts artists ranging from Kehinde Wiley to Rembrandt van Rijn as her favorites. And despite a flirtation with attending Baltimore County’s two fine arts magnet schools, Blossom’s decision to stay at Overlea, she says, was among the best of her life.

It led her to teachers like Fisher, who has helped Blossom focus on blending her art with her innate interest in helping people as a potential career. She hopes to become an art therapist – one who uses art as therapy to help clients overcome illnesses such as anxiety or depression. 

“I’ve learned so much here as I’ve worked to get myself college-ready. I’ve learned to focus more and stay on task and work with bigger canvases,” Blossom says. “The teachers have been so helpful and I have seen how much they care about me as a person.

“There have been things that tried to pull me away from Overlea,” she adds, noting that at one time her mother felt she might be better off at another school. “But I fell in love with this school in ninth grade, and I’m so glad I did. A lot of people don’t see it, but we’re like a family here. There’s no one here who doesn’t have the potential to be great.” 

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