Akosua Achampong, chair of the AHANA Leadership Council and MCAS ’18, was announced as the winner of the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship on Wednesday night.
The award was presented at Boston College’s 35th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Ceremony, entitled “Beyond Black and White Towards Justice.” The event was sponsored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Committee and held in the Heights Room in Corcoran Commons with over 100 students and faculty in attendance.
The committee, which began as an informal gathering of faculty and students set up to honor King’s life and legacy, became an official part of BC’s Black History Month festivities in 1982.
Candidates for the award are selected for their academic achievements, leadership in their community, service to others, and commitment to King’s principles and mission.
Achampong is a current candidate for the presidency of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College, and has been endorsed by The Heights’ editorial board.
After the five scholarship candidates were formally introduced, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., lauded them for their exemplary contributions to their community, and said that while preserving King’s memory is important, concrete action must follow such remembrance.
“We’re lucky, at Boston College, that we have [these five students], and so many individuals like them, who are dedicated to living out—carrying out—the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King,” Leahy said.
In a pre-recorded video message, Achampong related her most formative experience at BC: joining fellow students in protesting the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who died at the hands of police.
“‘No justice, no peace!’ we chanted with fists raised high as we walked toward Gasson Hall,” Achampong said. “Here, I found the community I wasn’t aware that I had been searching for at Boston College—a place for authenticity, lament, and organization.”
Achampong said that contrary to the claims of some, the election of President Barack Obama did not signal the arrival of a post-racial America, but instead only revealed the ingrained racism that had been lurking, overlooked, in the shadows.
“The face of racism has evolved in a multitude of ways,” Achampong said. “While we as a nation continue to combat blatant, overt instances of racial discrimination and prejudice, we have grown to accept and normalize ‘microaggressions.’”
Achampong noted that fighting for social justice is an essential component of her identity, and that she feels it is her personal duty to ensure that BC is a diverse and inclusive place.
“As a survivor of sexual assault, gender discrimination, racism, colorism, and other forms of oppression, I know that figuratively, and literally, our silence will not break any barriers,” Achampong said.
After dinner had concluded, Chiamaka Okorie, winner of the 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship and CSON ’17, addressed the five candidates.
Describing King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech as a call to action, Okorie adjured her audience to recognize the urgency of that call, and not to succumb to a “tranquilizing” acceptance of gradualism in securing justice.
“My advice to you is to remain unsatisfied and to continue to work toward something greater than you, because, at the end of the day, we are upholding a legacy greater than us,” Okorie said.
Following Okorie’s remarks, keynote speaker and Massachusetts State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, BC ’96, was introduced by Osamase Ekhator, a member of student dance group Sexual Chocolate and MCAS ’17.
A first-generation Haitian American, Forry represents the Commonwealth’s 1st Suffolk District, and is the first woman, and person of color, to be elected to the position.
Forry congratulated the five finalists for their leadership, service, and impressive academic achievements, and thanked Leahy for his administration’s statement supporting those affected by President Donald Trump’s recent executive order that temporarily banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
Forry said that her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti in the 1970s, continuously encouraged her to excel academically, and in 1992 she was awarded a scholarship to study at BC’s Carroll School of Management.
“It’s only here, in this great America, that a child of immigrants—a first-generation American— can stand before you as a state senator,” Forry said.
Forry said that King’s example of nonviolence in the face of violent opposition was reflected by the peaceful nature of the numerous protests that have recently taken place in Boston in response to the election and Trump’s policies.
“Our history is defined by those who take a stand against inequality and work for the rights of all people,” Forry said. “That is why we’re here this evening—that is why these five scholars have been chosen [as scholarship candidates].”
Forry said that King’s promise that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” must inspire Americans to not just hope, but also act.
“We in this room have to put our arms around the arc, pull that arc, and bend it toward justice,” Forry said.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor