Photo courtesy of WFU News
Photo courtesy of WFU News

Wake Forest recognizes MLK award winners

Wake Forest named the 2016 Martin Luther King “Building the Dream” winners at a ceremony Jan. 18 at a Martin Luther King banquet.

Chizoba Ukairo, a junior psychology major, and Nate French, Director of Wake Forest’s Magnolia Scholars Program, were chosen as this year’s winners for their dedication to being activists for diversity within their respective communities.

Each year, the program selects students, administrators or professors from both Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University who evoke Martin Luther King’s principles and promote diversity on campus. Ukairo was chosen from six student nominees between the two universities.

“This award means that I have really big shoes to fill, or that I just need to be making my own shoes,” Ukairo, who looks up to those who have won the award before her, said.

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Last year, two seniors were recognized with the award, making Ukairo’s achievement as a junior stand out.

“It’s an honor [to have won],” Ukairo said, “It gives me a lot of comfort to know that the effort I put into things on campus is appreciated.”

Many of Ukairo’s efforts on campus are related to promoting diversity. Some of these include founding and heading BRANCHES, a social justice retreat to the Black Mountains for students. She is also an Intercultural Ambassador for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, a residential advisor, a President’s Aide and a research fellow with the Anna Julia Cooper Center, an organization that promotes justice through scholarship. Additionally, she is active in both student government and the Black Student Alliance.

“[Chizoba] is an extremely passionate and hardworking student in and outside the classroom whose drive and campus involvement inspire me daily,” said senior Devin Williams.

Past recipients have had similarly auspicious accomplishments. In 2014, Alta Mauro, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, was given the award for her leadership in planning an alternative spring break trip through Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee that focused on Civil Rights history.

The year before, in 2013, then Dean of Student Services and Associate Vice President Harold Holmes was recognized with the award for a second time for organizing the Mission of Good Hope student service trip to Cape Town, South Africa.

Nate French, the faculty member awarded, is the director of the Magnolia Scholars Program, a scholarship program for students who are the first in their families to attend college. The program was launched by Wake Forest in 2009, and has since been a program dedicated to bringing first generation college students to the university.

“I was honored to win and I was honored in prior years to be nominated,” French said. “It means that I am being helpful.”

French believes his relationships with his students is the most important aspect of his job, and credits those relationships with being the reason he received the award.

“Some of that work is through academic advising, but the majority of it is in helping students work through their own unique problems and situations,” French said. “I’m proud that many of the students trust me enough to have some curious, interesting and awkward conversations [with me].”

Junior Franny Blanchard says that she is not surprised French won the award because of his forward thinking attitude and his compassion for student engagement.

“He is one of the most passionate and intellectual professors I have ever come across,” Blanchard said. “He pushes his students to think diversely and he engages us in conversation and urges us to challenge viewpoints, even his own.”

French thanked several of his colleagues and his wife after receiving the award.

“I would like to thank all of those who work with me in the Office of the Dean of the College, the WFU Scholar’s Office and the department of communication,” French said.  “Most importantly, I have to thank my wife, Camille, who makes it possible for me to be me — I definitely married up!”

Representing Winston-Salem State Univarsity, senior Kyle Brown and junior Jaylon Herbin were the recognized students for the award. Additionally, assistant professor of Justice Studies Jack Monell and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Natasha Jeter won the award as faculty members of WSSU.

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