An audience of administrators, alumni, and students fully dressed in black and white sat in support of the work of five undergraduate finalist for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship. The award is given each year to a Boston College student who exemplifies the characteristics and commitment of Dr. King.
Tuesday night marked the 33rd annual installment of the scholarship ceremony, sponsored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Committee and the Office of Student Involvement, with this year’s ceremony titled “Beyond Black and White: Towards Justice.”
The ceremony highlighted the accomplishments of the five selected finalists, and ultimately recognized one as this year’s MLK Scholarship winner: Cai Thomas, A&S ’16.
The scholarship recognizes the merit of BC juniors that seek to emulate the spirit of MLK, working and serving in solidarity with his fight for social justice and equality. The finalists are determined from a pool of applicants by the MLK Scholarship Committee on a holistic basis, including academic excellence, and co-curricular and service activities.
The winner is presented with a $20,000 scholarship that goes toward school tuition for the following year, and the four subsequent finalists are each awarded with a $3,000 scholarship to go toward tuition. Additionally, all five finalists are given a $1,000 gift certificate to the BC Bookstore to go toward the purchasing of textbooks. The winner also receives a portrait of MLK that was done by a former member of the MLK Memorial Committee.
This year’s finalists included Julia Biango, A&S ’16; Elisa Bushee, A&S ’16; Ronald Claude, A&S ’16; Afua Laast, LSOE ’16; and Thomas, the winner.
The ceremony opened with an introduction from Patricia Birch and Susan Michalcyzk, co-chairs of the MLK Memorial Committee.
The committee began as a small group of faculty and administrators informally meeting to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy, which eventually led to the establishment of annual dinner in his memory, starting in 1982. It now continues the work of preserving MLK’s legacy through the co-sponsorship of activities, events, performances, and workshops, as well as the donation of advanced study grants and the MLK Scholarship.
“We have accomplished much since the first meetings of a small group of dedicated members of the University committed to honoring Dr. King’s memory,” Birch said. “Each year, we renew the Memorial Committee’s purpose: to eradicate racism and promote multicultural understanding.”
The ceremony continued with a performance from the student gospel choir, Voices of Imani, under the direction of David Altenor, BC ’09.
Last year’s scholarship recipient, Patience Marks, A&S ’15, gave her remarks on the scholarship and the merit of this year’s candidates.
The event’s keynote speaker was Valerie D. Lewis-Mosley, BC ’79, whom the program identifies as a healer, scholar, pastoral theologian, and doctoral candidate.
Lewis-Mosley has made significant impacts across various areas of the BC community. From co-creating BC’s trademarked AHANA acronym to advocating for cultural sensitivity within nursing, she is credited with influencing the culture of change at the University.
Lewis-Mosley discussed her sense of what authentic multiculturalism means from a religious and historical perspective, referencing the life and times of certain ancestors—MLK, specifically—and the implications of understanding and honoring his legacy as a Jesuit Catholic university and a spiritual body of people.
Lewis-Mosley chose to focus on the young people that propelled change—noting the four freshmen in Greensboro, N.C. that participated in a “sit-in” in 1960 to petition segregation, which was a catalyst for the civil rights movement. She also noted the cultural relevance that that “sit-in” holds in recent times.
“The reason why I won’t talk about ‘I Have A Dream,’ is because in the midst of reporting that very momentous day, we have lost the vision of what led to that dream,” Lewis-Mosley said.
Lewis-Mosley concluded with an exhortation for the University to reconsider and realign itself to its identity as an institution that upholds Jesuit-Catholic ideals of social justice. She directly referenced the events of this past December and the University’s sanctioning of students that participated in the “die-in” protest in St. Mary’s Hall. She connected the reproach of these students to the reproach that many young people faced while boldly standing up for social equality during the civil rights movement.
“So I ask us, as a Catholic university, as a body of believers, are we truly who we say we are?” Lewis-Mosley said. “Church, Boston College, African-American community, AHANA, we need a chest tube so that we can breathe again, so that we understand that the vitality of life is promised to everyone, and that our young people—in an institution that is authentically a university, that keeps with the universal way of being—should not be silenced. They should not be condemned. They should not be sanctioned. And they should not, after the fact, be given an injunction about ‘not the next time.’”
In her request for the University to create an environment that is inclusive and welcoming to this type of demonstration, Lewis-Mosley connected the spirit of December’s protest to Jesuit ideals of social justice.
“What better place [St. Mary’s Hall] for them to exemplify what you have taught them—those social justice ideals of Jesuit spirituality,” Lewis-Mosley said. “I think Mother Mary would have been proud of her sons and daughters who laid down their life in an institution and a chapel named after her.”
“Let us stand up for what is right, and let us lay down so that others can breathe,” Lewis-Mosley said at the conclusion of her speech, to which she was met with a standing ovation from the audience.
The ceremony proceeded with a formal introduction of the finalists that included videos of each candidate reading an excerpt from their application essay.
Candidates spoke of the inspiration that MLK has been for them—in their personal lives, in their mission, and in inspiring their service to humanity.
University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., presented the scholarship to this year’s elected winner, noting the commitment evident in each of the scholarship finalists this year.
“The message of Dr. King—and also the message of Christ—is that we are to be these examples of hope, of forgiveness, of reconciliation,” Leahy said. “We have five individuals who have applied for this scholarship, each of them, in their own way, is an example of light, of peace, and of reconciliation.”
Thomas was presented with the scholarship for her service and work in exposing narratives through film.
“Art is a great medium because it has the power to transcend the cultural lines and exhibit authentic storytelling and highlight the human condition in ways that other mediums cannot,” Thomas said in her video.
A communication and film studies double-major, Thomas has produced and directed numerous film projects, including an eight-part documentary film exposing the production of “For Colored Girls.”
Thomas has also participated in various service initiatives, including the Jemez Pueblo Exchange, Loyola Volunteers, and Breakthrough Collaborative, in which she served teenagers in her home community in Miami.
Thomas hopes to pursue filmmaking as a career, with a continued focus on telling stories that would otherwise remain untold.
“This is beyond amazing and to share it with all of you—to have a blend of students, alumni, and administration here—and being able to connect with other people has been truly a blessing,” Thomas said.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor