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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

MLK Scholars speak on learning leadership

Published: April 11, 2014
Section: News

MLK & Friends Club presented “SPEAK: A Scholar’s Story” on Thursday evening. The event featured a panel of three Brandeis alumnae, all of whom were MLK Scholars while at school. They shared tidbits of wisdom about leadership, motivation, how to get a job and most importantly: the power of relationships.

Cynthia Jackson ’16, president of MLK & Friends, began the presentation. MLK & Friends is a club inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. According to their Facebook page, their club “aims to connect all students with the greater Boston community in the name of social justice … our mission is simple: to promote tolerance, acceptance, teamwork, and service.” While the club is open to all students, Brandeis itself also offers a scholarship in the name of the famous civil rights activist, called the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship. It is awarded to first-years with excellent academic performance in high school, who also are involved in their communities and have financial needs. Only 10 students receive this honor each year.

Jackson introduced the speakers, all of whom graduated in recent years. Desiree Murphy Babaniyi ’10, who also attended law school at Northeastern, currently serves on the MBTA’s Department of Relations as a Labor Counsel. Alie Tawah ’11 works in health economics research, for a consulting company that focuses on the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. The final speaker, Erin Lue-Hing ’12, is a data quality analyst and compiles data about people who are homeless or at risk for homelessness in New Jersey.

Jackson first asked the panel whether they had known they were going to be leaders when they were originally accepted to Brandeis. Overall, the panelists responded that their vision of what comprises leadership changed as they grew older. “You need to take the reins even if you don’t know what to do,” said Lue-Hing, about how students should dive headfirst into on-campus leadership positions. “It’s taking that leap, even when it’s super scary.”

All three panelists were student leaders during the time they spent at Brandeis, and were influential in the founding of the MLK & Friends club and in keeping the scholarship alive. “I had the unique experience of being part of this organization when it was created,” said Babaniyi. “This club gave our group of student a voice and visibility.” Then, when discussing the scholarship itself, she said, “There were things being said about cutting the program, and it was in danger. We [the MLK Scholars] were brought here to serve the Brandeis community.” She discussed how she and other scholars forged lasting relationships, all the while highlighting that being an MLK Scholar meant contributing something to Brandeis while excelling academically. Brandeis decided not to cut funding for the program.

After talking about their experience at Brandeis, the speakers discussed how to go about getting a job, and how a Brandeis experience can help prepare students for the future. “I knew when I was 16 years old that I was going to be a lawyer,” said Babaniyi. “I tried to be consistent with most of the things that I did [in terms of Brandeis clubs], and that was purposeful.” All three panelists agreed that doing activities just to pad a resume is unfair and unprofessional. “Less is more. Do things that are meaningful to you,” said Lue-Hing.
At the end of the day, all three argued that getting a job comes down to forming relationships and lasting bonds. They also explored the importance of an interview.

Overall, Brandeis as an institution had a large impact on these three speakers, and increased their leadership potential. “I picked up on this aspect of leadership early on at Brandeis: the sense of taking initiative,” said Tawah. They have been changed by this institution, and are now inspiring others to lead like they are. “Brandeis is my first home, and I love this place very dearly,” Babaniyi said.