MLK Scholarship Program Founders, Recipients Honored
Providence, R.I. — Many people felt compelled to act in the wake of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. more than 40 years ago.
Now, two members of the Providence College community who were motivated by that tragedy have been recognized for supporting an enduring scholarship program for students of color. PC officials and alumni said the scholarships continue to make a lasting impression on campus and in the community.
Dr. Francis “Pat” MacKay, a retired associate professor of chemistry, an administrator, and a co-founder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Program, received a lifetime achievement award at a recent dinner celebrating its legacy. Rev. Robert A. Morris, O.P. ’44, a retired College administrator who mentored many early recipients, was honored as well.
More than 100 students, alumni, faculty, and staff attended the event, “A Celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Legacy: Past, Present and Future,” which was sponsored by the Balfour Office for Multicultural Activities, the Office of Student Affairs, the Multicultural Scholarship Program, and the Office of Alumni Relations.
Shortly after King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, MacKay and the late Dr. Mark Rerick, another chemistry faculty member, started canvassing other professors to donate to a scholarship fund in Dr. King’s memory.
“There had to be some response, some recognition of what Dr. King had done,” MacKay said.
They soon learned that the late Dr. Rene Fortin in the Department of English had started a similar effort. The three faculty worked together to solicit their colleagues and by April 28, had gotten pledges from 50 for ½ of 1 percent of their salaries for four years.
“It was a very, very emotional time,” he said. “You didn’t have to talk people into it.”
That was enough to fund four full-tuition scholarships for underprivileged African-American students, MacKay said.
MacKay, Rerick, and Fortin approached College President Rev. William Paul Haas, O.P., requested that the College match what had been raised. Father Haas enthusiastically endorsed the effort, MacKay said. “The College more than matched the number of scholarships that we had asked for,” he said.
Father Morris said the College wanted to establish the scholarship as a long-standing institution, which would require investment beyond the faculty donations. Ultimately, they were able to recruit 11 students who enrolled that fall after a “bridge” program to help ensure the students’ success.
“Things don’t move fast in colleges, but there was such urgency that we felt at that time,” MacKay said.
Broad-based program emerges
In 1971, when PC enrolled its first female students, it also expanded the MLK Scholarship Program. One member of that class, and a scholarship recipient, was Dr. Wanda S. Ingram ’75, now PC’s senior associate dean of undergraduate studies, who thanked Father Morris for his guidance whenever problems arose.
Later, the College opened the program up to other minority groups and expanded it to incorporate other scholarship funds. Today about 100 students receive aid through the Multicultural Scholarship Program, which offers need-based financial assistance, meeting about 90 percent of their costs, said Michael R. Walsh, assistant dean and the program’s director.
Looking back, MacKay and other College officials said the scholarship programs had a significant impact on campus.
In his blessing at the dinner, Father Morris said the scholarship “began in tragedy, but ended up a wonderful gift to many, many students.”
“Not only was it beneficial to its recipients, but it also enriched and diversified the Providence College community,” said Father Morris, who was vice president for institutional development at the time the MLK Scholarship was established.
MacKay said that friendships developed between majority and minority students, providing interactions that were very important.
“We were encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to get to know as many people as possible and to not let fear or anxiety keep us from learning from one another,” Ingram said in her address.
Walsh said that MLK scholarship recipients have served as leaders on campus and beyond – starting student groups, serving as student ambassadors and resident advisors, and performing community service.
“They rise to the occasion,” he said.
A call to greatness
MLK scholars are reminded early on that they are expected to do great things.
Student speaker Dara Greenidge ’12 (West Haven, Conn.) said in their meetings, Walsh regularly asks students, “How are you going to make your mark on campus?” She was one of two students who started the Footprints Gospel Choir, describing it as “a metaphor of the footprints we wish to leave behind on campus.”
The other student speaker, Mompati Maruping ’12 (Orapa, Botswana), also said he took Walsh’s questions to heart. As a freshman, he began to study “great, important people” and discovered three features of greatness.
He determined that great people became successful by giving of themselves, by creating a legacy, and by building relationships.
“All of us can be great,” Maruping said. “You just need to learn from people who are amazing, and ask yourself, ‘What great things are you going to do in your lives?’”
-- Liz F. Kay