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MLK Fellowship teaches leadership and importance of community service

By Polina Potochevska

Section: Features

October 27, 2017

Brandeis has many different types of fellowships to assist students both financially and academically, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship Program (MLK). Elizabeth Rotolo is the Assistant Director for Academic Fellowships at Brandeis, and she oversees the MLK Fellowship program.

The MLK Fellowship was originally known as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship and was created in 1968 “as a result of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the subsequent occupation of Ford Hall and the 10 demands of January 1969,” according to Rotolo.

During the occupation of Ford Hall in 1969, a group of students went to the founding president of Brandeis, Abram Sachar, and “demanded five MLK scholarships,” which President Sachar increased to 10, according to the fellowship’s website. These scholarships were included in the list of 10 demands brought forth by “spokesmen Ricardo Millet ’68 and Roy DeBerry ’70 among other black students and members of the Afro-American community on campus,” the website includes.

Since then, the MLK Scholarship has been continued and in the fall of 2016, it was renamed the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship Program “in an effort to acknowledge the many contributions of these students across campus and beyond, [the name] is meant to recognize the holistic experience of the program, which reaches well beyond tuition assistance” according to Rotolo.

The MLK Fellowship is awarded to incoming first-year students, and students are considered based on their academic performance, extracurricular participation and also “outstanding community involvement and demonstrated financial need,” according to the website.

Rotolo told The Brandeis Hoot there are currently 48 MLK Fellows on campus, and “recipients of the Fellowship are expected to continue the tradition of giving back and leadership in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through community service opportunities.”

One of the current MLK Fellows is Hawa Ibrahim ’20, an English major who hopes to minor in African and Afro-American Studies (AAAS). Along with the MLK Fellowship, she is involved with the Waltham Group program Afternoon Enrichment, which pairs Brandeis students with middle school students to work on homework and other programs with the kids, and she works at Chum’s.

Ibrahim is on the Fellowship Advisory Board, similar to a club’s E-board, along with four other Fellows. As a member of the board, she works with the other members of the board to “create events for the Fellows” and hopes to create a greater sense of “MLK pride and scholarship spirit.”

Some bonding events the Fellows plan to hold this semester include a movie night, a trip to an “Escape The Room” venue and a Fellowship Thanksgiving dinner together before the break. Ibrahim says the board is working hard to publicize the events to the Fellows to create a sense of excitement that will bond the students together.

Fellows take part in a Thanksgiving dinner, their annual fall retreat and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Interfaith Service Day, or “MLK Day,” in the spring. The retreat, Ibrahim explains, is a way for first-year students to bond as a group and also get to know the upperclassmen in the fellowship. “It’s fun, the upperclassmen will give advice to the first-years, we talk about social justice and what it means to means to be a leader and how to help the community,” Ibrahim explained.

Ibrahim also mentioned that MLK Day is an annual event in the spring when MLK Fellows get together to participate in a day-long community service project. “It’s a mandatory event where we bond as a fellowship ship, do community service and learn a lot about social justice and how to be a leader.”

Last year, the community service project involved partnering with Outreach Inc. to “package over 12,000 meals for local food banks,” according to the MLK Fellowship website. Ibrahim’s favorite memory from her first year in the fellowship was during this community service project, because she explained that “we were all in line putting food items into the box, there was music playing and we were all just singing along and doing our part. We all had an amazing time.”

The Fellows also will occasionally go on social outings into Boston to further bond as a group. Most recently, Fellows went to see a performance of “Phantom Of The Opera” at the Boston Opera House.

Ibrahim’s favorite part about being a Fellow, among the many things, is having a closer connection with the academic advisor for the Fellowship, Elizabeth Rotolo. “I get intimidated to talk to my faculty advisor about my major, and it’s hard to get that one-on-one attention… but I have that opportunity with [Rotolo] and she knows me very well,” she explained. She also enjoys “being a part of something,” especially in a larger school. “I’m glad to have that sense of community with them.”

Ibrahim stated that being on the board has given her more confidence with being in a leadership position. Through the position, she has learned how to plan events and help others create ideas for future events. “It’s given me a lot of leadership skills and a lot of skills that I’ll need in the real world,” she noted.

Ibrahim said that she looks forward to her time in the Fellowship, especially “having a stronger connection with my other Fellows, and being a leader to the underclassmen.” As the group strengthens their MLK pride, learn leadership skills and further engage with the community, Ibrahim hopes to pass along these messages to future Fellows.

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