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The Spirit of MLK

The College’s first cohort of Martin Luther King Jr. scholars creates

a social justice fund.

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Over four years, the first-ever Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars at Ithaca College truly became global citizens. They traveled to Brazil, Ghana, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and historic places of the U.S. civil rights movement. They helped victims of natural disasters. They saw how different cultures deal with humanitarian issues such as race, poverty, healthcare, and education.

The experiences stirred in each a desire to do more, says MLK scholar Joseph “Piko” Ewoodzie ’06, to keep fellow humans from living in grossly unequal conditions. They decided to establish the Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Fund, to help students at Ithaca College work for the common good, close to home and afield. “We will provide funding you need to make it happen,” Ewoodzie says to future students who will be helped by the fund. “[We want to] help you help the world.”

The fund will help students working on development assistance projects pay for such incidentals as transportation or lodging. Projects might include disaster cleanups, working with youth, or, as Ewoodzie describes them, social-betterment projects that students can foresee themselves revisiting.

After returning from their last trip as IC students, to the Dominican Republic, the scholars wanted to find a way to continue the work they’d started here. They brainstormed among themselves and with students from the College’s ALANA (African, Latino, Asian, and Native American) community. And the fund was born.

The first Martin Luther King Jr. scholars with education professor Jeff Claus, third from left, vice president Roger Richardson, second from right, and Tanya Saunders, dean of the Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies, right.

They want to grow it to be self-sustaining, which requires at least $10,000. In the spring, the scholars donated seed money from their own pockets and encouraged family and friends to donate instead of rewarding them at graduation. They hope to incorporate the fund into the scholars program itself, making it a bridge to scholars’ post-collegiate careers and lives in service to the community and the world.

“Hopefully,” says scholar Fred Chandra ’06, “this will be a gateway for people to grow as philanthropists.” The fund still needs several thousand dollars, and the scholars invite all alumni and friends of the College to contribute.

Associate vice president for academic and student affairs and dean for the first-year experience Roger Richardson created the College’s MLK scholars program in 2001 for students from historically underrepresented populations. They come from various socioeconomic backgrounds, but they are all from the top 10 percent of their classes, with a track record of leadership and community involvement. Each receives a merit-based scholarship, today valued at $17,000, and is eligible for need-based financial aid up to full tuition.

MLK scholars enter IC already high achievers. Once here, they are required to maintain a cumulative B+ grade point average; participate in regular community service; produce a learning portfolio; and participate in myriad enrichment programs.

 This first group of MLK scholars left IC richer and having enriched the College with their good works as well as with this fund-in-the-making. “I don’t think we can ask anything more from our first class of Martin Luther King Jr. scholars than to create a legacy of giving,” says Richardson, “and to show that giving is important and required. [In that respect] we’ve done our job.”
—J. R. Clairborne

Want to help Ithaca College students work for the common good, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally? Join the inaugural class of MLK scholars in fully endowing the MLK Scholars Fund for Social Justice, or contribute to another scholarship fund that appeals to you.

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Paying it Forward
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In Your Face