Fulbrighters Honor the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. through Volunteer Service

The life of Martin Luther King, Jr. inspires people around the world to fight for human rights and to serve their communities. The Fulbright Program honors his legacy each year in Atlanta at the Fulbright Foreign Student Enrichment Seminar, "From Then to Now: Exploring the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement." Fulbright participants, hosted in graduate degree programs across the United States, gather in Atlanta to visit The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, Dr. King’s Birth Home, the African-American Panoramic Experience (APEX) Museum, and The National Center for Civil and Human Rights.  

They also learn from local experts and volunteer with Atlanta organizations. This year, their service included conservation projects with the Chattahoochee Nature Center, Keep Atlanta Beautiful Commission, and Trees Atlanta. They could also pack essential medications and supplies with MedShare, or tune up bicycles for refugees through New American Pathways.

These seminars and the legacy of Dr. King inspire Fulbrighters to volunteer in their home communities abroad and host communities in the United States.

Jeanne Mukangenzi from Rwanda, studying toward a master’s in child study and early education at University of Massachusetts Amherst, found the seminar to be particularly moving. She said lectures and tours examined the Civil Rights Movement by “delving into its challenges and advancements over the years.” The visits to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, particularly his birth home, grave site, and church, enhanced her understanding of Dr. King’s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Mukangenzi said that the seminar assembled a “knowledgeable panel” of non-profit practitioners and academics who taught about Dr. King’s legacy “as well as the challenges the civil rights are still facing. . . . The discussions focused on the role of media, the contribution of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to the Civil Rights Movement, and the ongoing struggles to fight against racism and inequality in the state of Georgia and the United States at large.”

She was gratified to see the international content presented by The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, including a history of The 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda. “As a Fulbright scholar from Rwanda, this enrichment experience reminded and inspired me that everyone can challenge the status quo regardless of their status in the society,” she observed.

Group of Fulbrighters standing in wooded area
Alexander Valdelamar (at right) from Panama volunteering with Trees Atlanta

Alexander Valdelamar from Panama attended the Atlanta seminar while pursuing a master's degree in electrical engineering at The University of Tulsa. With a focus on sustainable development, his Fulbright supports his goals as an energy manager to engineer low-cost, high-impact technological solutions. Complementing his research interests on sustainability, he volunteered with Trees Atlanta. Valdelamar commented that removing invasive tree species not only preserved the local ecosystem but also provided insights into pressing community needs. “Collaborating with a diverse group of dedicated individuals underscored the importance of collective action, fostering a sense of unity and purpose,” he said. “This experience was a sophisticated exploration of community stewardship, offering the unique joy that comes from making a meaningful impact.”

He found that the visits to the historical sites deepened his understanding of Dr. King’s unwavering spirit of service, and said he will participate in the National Day of Service on Martin Luther King., Jr. Day back in his host community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “His commitment to equality, justice, and community empowerment became palpable, inspiring a renewed dedication to service and social responsibility. The experience served as a poignant reminder of the enduring impact one individual's dedication to service can have on shaping a better, more inclusive world.”

Samuel Gnaore, from Côte D’Ivoire, is studying toward a master’s degree at University of Arizona with a focus on teaching and learning English as a second language. He says that the Fulbright Seminar provided “a lifetime experience full of discoveries, enrichment, and an amazing opportunity to make connections with people and cultures.”

Gnaore observed that exploring the life of Dr. King made him aware of the importance of leadership for positive changes. He says, “One thing that stood out to me is that small actions can bring big changes in our communities. That inspired me to look at how to serve my community.”

He also volunteered with Trees Atlanta during the Fulbright Seminar. He said, “I was happy to help maintain a neighborhood green space. This action has taught me that changes are effective when the whole community is involved. . . . Small actions matter!”

Gnaore had previously taught summer English classes free of charge in Côte D’Ivoire; now through Fulbright he sees “community service and volunteering differently,” both in terms of its power to change peoples lives and his own duty to give back. Gnaore plans to “lead small change-oriented actions” when he returns to Côte D’Ivoire.” In Arizona, he is volunteering at “Literacy Connects” to teach English as a second language (ESL) to adult immigrant learners through a partnership with his academic program. When he returns home, he plans to teach English in the community and educate primary school students on digital literacy.

Muhammad Saad Khan, a current Fulbrighter at Northeastern University, volunteered at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. He and other Fulbrighters.“transformed into trail artists, painting trees with vibrant colors to mark different paths and clear the main passageway. It was a blast getting creative outdoors, making the trails more accessible, and bonding with fellow Fulbrighters over laughter and paint splatters.”

In Boston, he has volunteered with Samaritans, a suicide prevention non-profit. He found it humbling to use his skills to raise awareness and empower others to seek help. He has also taken part in community development projects, contributing to positive change in his hometown, through an organization called "Transformation, Inspire for Better Living."

He reflects that the visit to the National Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta “resonated deeply.” Khan says that seeing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “handwritten ‘I Have a Dream’ speech gave me chills! It made me reflect on his lifelong dedication to equality and the ongoing fight for justice.” Khan is excited to still be in the United States during "A Tribute to the Dream," Northeastern University’s annual event commemorating Dr. King.

Nexhi Sula, a Fulbrighter from Albania who is pursuing a master's degree in computer science at Saint Louis University, is encouraged by Dr. King’s life to continue her volunteer work with victims of domestic abuse when she returns home. For her, the seminar in Atlanta was “a reminder that, despite our diverse backgrounds, we all share a common goal: to foster a world that is more inclusive, just, and empathetic.”

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