Jamaican wins MLK scholarship

Jamaican wins MLK scholarship

Thair Brown first J'can awardee in 37-year history

Sunday, March 10, 2019

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St George's College alum Thair Brown has been awarded the 37th annual Boston College Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial Scholarship, the first Jamaican to have received the honour in the history of the award.

Brown is an economics major with minors in computer science and African and African Diaspora Studies, and is set for graduation in 2020.

The award will pay up to US$19,000 toward his senior year tuition and US$1,000 towards books.

According to the independent student newspaper of Boston College, The Heights, the award was presented in the Murray Function Room on February 19 when Boston College staff, faculty, and family of the finalists gathered to commemorate King and laud the accomplishments of the scholarship finalists in a ceremony under the theme, 'Still I Rise'.

After receiving the award, Brown expressed his gratitude to the MLK Scholarship Committee while admitting to being in “a mild state of disbelief.”

“However, as I begin to return from my brief sojourn amongst the clouds, I realise that the phrase 'to whom much is given, much is expected' comes into play. I have some big shoes to fill, but believe me when I say that I am ready and willing to do whatever it takes to live up to these expectations,” he said.

The four other finalists were Sydney Boyd, Nwamaka Nnaeto, Michael Osaghae, and Omonosagiagbon Owens, They will each receive US$3,000 towards their tuition, plus a US$1,000-bookstore gift card.

To qualify, students must be in their third year and have demonstrated superior academic achievement, extra-curricular leadership, community service, and involvement with the African-American community and African-American issues both on and off campus.

Brown has served as president of the Caribbean Culture Club, student advisor of the Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center Student Advisory Board, and a member of the AHANA+ Leadership Council, and Dedicated Intellectuals of the People, a group of AHANA male students who gather to talk about social, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth.

He also was a winner of a book award named for the late Karen Campbell Severin and presented annually to students who exemplify her service to the university community as an undergraduate and alumna.

According to The Heights, during the MLK award ceremony Brown spoke in a pre-recorded video of his journey to understanding his identity as a Jamaican-American male in the United States.

“As I tried my best to cling to Martin Luther King's famous quote, which asserts that, 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice', I found myself waning in these convictions, for there was never any justice to be found,” Brown said. “Indeed, Marcus Garvey could not blame me for this decline in black pride and identity.”

He credited his inception of a more bitter understanding of race to his mother's reaction concerning his workout tendencies.

“'Stop going to the gym because the bigger you get, the more likely it is that police will see you as a threat',” his mother said.

He also recalled a mantra from his father.

“My father had always told me…that 'USA stands for 'U Suffer Alone,' but in the wake of [President] Donald Trump's new claim on America, I started to entertain this motto.

“This was the America that greeted me — its welcoming committee adorning me a shroud of constant, floating anxiety, as they rolled out the red carpet stained with blood and tears of innocent black bodies, each with a mother, a father, and … [a] ripple effect of grief,” he said.

Brown noted that in the spring of his freshman year, King's beliefs about the power of love allowed him to see acts of kindness bestowed by his roommates and floormates of the Multicultural Living Experience, where he recalls that each of this year's scholarship finalists lived as well. It was the same love and kindness Boston College students on the Jamaica Magis Service Trip showed to him while he lived in Jamaica and is the same love and kindness he reciprocates in his leadership positions.

At the end of the ceremony and presentations, university president Rev William P Leahy, SJ, congratulated the finalists on their contributions toward social justice at BC and presented the award to Brown. He spoke briefly about the importance of pursuing social justice for all people, concentrating on two words to consider when thinking about what King stood for: memory and mission.

Vincent Rougeau, dean of Boston College Law, served as the keynote speaker. He shared a unique childhood event that occurred after King's funeral that was relayed to him by his mother. His parents were a part of a coalition of other parents who developed the first integrated preschools in Atlanta.

“Remember Dr King's funeral,” his mother said. “You and all the children from the preschool lined up hand in hand along Ashby Avenue, and you watched the funeral cortege pass, and then you all walked together with the parents and the teachers behind, along with the other mourners to the church.”

Despite this innocent, optimistic memory, Rougeau spoke to the same issues Brown mentioned.

“The United States is still in many ways a prisoner to its racist history,” he said. “A history that has not been adequately acknowledged and confronted and which continues to compromise the full membership and participation of blacks in American society. There is a long and depressing litany of examples: policing shootings of unarmed black men, school-to-prison pipeline, the ongoing wealth gap between black and white households.

“The failure of our political and economic systems to address the need for a more profound commitment to social justice, which was the focus of King's thinking and activism in the final years of his life, has now become urgent and obvious lies in the heart of the work,” he said.

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