SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The Martin Luther King Scholarship Association at Seton Hall University is one of the oldest minority scholarships in the nation and works to continue Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of fighting for social, economic and political justice and maintaining his vision for education through the academic and spiritual development of their leaders.
“Dr. King manifested his skills and gifts in the 20th century. The 21st century requires even more sophisticated gifts and collaborations,” the Rev. Dr. Forrest Pritchett, director of the MLK Leadership Program, said in a press release. “Parts of the world are still being influenced by darkness; we are called to bring them into the light.”
Scholars like West Orange resident Raul Ausa, who graduated magna cum laude with a degree in social work, and Elizabeth resident Brian Wreckler, summa cum laude, who majored in international relations and diplomacy, have both taken this message to heart. Wreckler’s time with the MLKSA has seen him burgeon into a confident servant leader resulting in him being selected for a 2016 Servant Leadership Award, according to the release.
“Growing up my goal was to survive, find a job with good benefits, pension plan and 401k. I had no expectations for my life. When I arrived on campus, I didn’t believe I was worth the scholarship I was receiving. However, Seton Hall believed in me, when I did not believe in myself, and I did not take that belief for granted. Every day I woke up, I worked to make my school proud, my community proud. Seton Hall shaped me into a person that I am today,” Wreckler said.
As a Pirate and MLK Scholar, he was exposed to a number of community service initiatives. “When I was asked to co-chair my first programs, I was no longer able to stay in the background. I was the leader, the person people looked to for answers. At first it was intimidating and disorienting. However, the structure that MLKSA has established, in which younger scholars are paired with older more experienced scholars, created an environment of support and strength,” Wreckler said. “I have worked on developing mentorship programs for middle school students in Newark, I have developed lunch program initiatives, and have learned how to effectively construct then grow a successful organization.”
Wreckler plans to put his organizational skills to use in the name of serving the community. His goal is to create a nonprofit organization that provides microfinance loans to former felons and those cut off from access to credit.
MLKSA didn’t just provide an educationally supportive environment for Ausa, it made his education possible. Ausa, an illegal immigrant who’s enrolled in the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, was able to use the MLKSA scholarship to help him graduate.
“MLKSA has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Apart for making my education financially possible, it has challenged me to develop my character as well as my scholarship and to consider what kind of impact I want to have on the world,” Ausa said.
Ausa’s social work studies allowed him to connect with the Baccalaureate Child Welfare Education Program, designed to encourage students to enter professional positions in the New Jersey Department of Children and Families Division of Child Protection and Permanency. Ausa is working with the child protection division, while he undergoes the process of discernment for entering the priesthood for the Episcopal Church.
Among other MLKSA graduates are Crystal Watson of The Bronx, who graduated cum laude in psychology; Daniel Brown of Mount Laurel, who graduated in sports marketing and management; Francisco Arocho of Puerto Rico, who graduated in psychology; Malik Dye of Elizabeth, who graduated cum laude in business; and Maya Butler of West Orange, who graduated in communication.
“These are extraordinary examples of personal growth. Each came in with many natural gifts; and now they are leaving with an extraordinary sense of self-worth, healthy self-esteem, extraordinary amounts of drive and creative leadership paradigms,” Pritchett said.
Pritchett recalls the words of King in surmising their student leadership, saying: “Advances in civilization are often prompted by the challenge of change, controversy or competition, but as MLK said once, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.’”