Photos by Frank Curran

When Maria “Christie” Louis ’24 received the 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, she acknowledged her family in Haiti and emphasized that the honor was not just for her, but also for them. “I stand on the shoulders of people back home. I hold them with me and I carry them with me.”

A first-generation college student originally from Port-au-Prince, Louis moved to Boston as a young child and now resides in Wrentham, Mass. Her parents, brother, and best friends were in attendance when University President William P. Leahy, S.J., announced her award at the 41st annual scholarship banquet on February 21.

The scholarship recognizes a Boston College junior who has demonstrated  superior academic achievement, extracurricular leadership, community service, and involvement with the African American community and African American issues. Event organizers said Louis "finds inspiration in Dr. King’s assertion that ‘Freedom is never freely given by the oppressor but must be demanded from the oppressed,’ and describes this quote as a catalyst for the rest of her future.”

"MLK's legacy reminds me that the fight against injustice is mine and that taking it up is a necessity for ensuring that Black people, specifically Black mothers, are provided with the justice and resources that they deserve."
Martin Luther King Jr Scholarship winner Christie Louis

“Winning this award has meant absolutely everything to me and my family,” Louis said in her acceptance speech. “I do not take this award as my own; it's for all my family that is back in Haiti and it serves as a reminder to the incredible responsibility I have to them and to my community to become the change.

“Similarly, MLK's legacy reminds me that the fight against injustice is mine and that taking it up is a necessity for ensuring that Black people, specifically Black mothers, are provided with the justice and resources that they deserve,” Louis added.

Passionate about racial justice issues with an emphasis on maternal health for Black mothers in the United States and Haiti, Louis will work this summer with TeamBirth, a nonprofit dedicated to safe birthing plans for women of color.

In her speech, she cited both the higher childbirth mortality in the U.S. for Black mothers compared to their white counterparts, and that “Haiti’s maternal mortality rate remains the highest of any country in the Western hemisphere.”

Louis hopes to be a change agent through her volunteer and professional pursuits. With a double major in biology and African and African Diaspora Studies and a minor in Global Public Health and the Common Good, her long-term goal is to become an obstetrician to serve primarily BIPOC in low-socioeconomic communities.

 “I intend to be the one who does everything in my power to change the system,” Louis said. “I’ve dedicated all my service work and my career aspirations towards achieving this vision.”

Christie Louis and Rossanna Contreras-Godfrey

Christie Louis with Learning to Learn Director Rossanna Contreras-Godfrey at the scholarship event. Contreras-Godfrey is among BC administrators Louis says have helped shape her undergraduate experience.

Among other extracurricular activities, Louis serves as the Haitian Association events coordinator, AHANA+ caucus coordinator, and Black Women Matter Retreat co-leader. She also volunteers at Rosie’s Place.

“Christie is in a leadership category of her own, said Katie Dalton, director the BC Women's Center, where Louis is a student staff member. "She combines her intense passion for advocating for those who are marginalized in our society, especially women and individuals of color, with an approachableness that welcomes others into conversation about difficult issues.”

Louis cited Dalton as among BC administrators who have helped shape her undergraduate experience and said she is honored to work in the office, which aims to create an inclusive space for women on campus. Others she named include Academic Advising Center Assistant Director Helen Ha, Learning to Learn Director Rossanna Contreras-Godfrey, and Donicka Pamphile of University Counseling Services.

In addition to her family, Louis thanked the Martin Luther King, Jr. scholarship finalists—Kaylee Arzu, Srina Lacet, Osasenaga Owens, and Ashley-Rae Stewart—for their support.

The evening included a keynote speech by Institute for the Study of Race and Culture Director Alex Pieterse, a faculty member in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

Meet the other finalists for the 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship:

Kaylee Arzu, Bronx, NY

Major: International Studies major; minors in marketing and African and African Diaspora Studies

Arzu is a stepper on the F.I.S.T.S team, Black Student Forum treasurer, a trainer for the Bystander Program, and a residential assistant. She has initiated creative projects in service to the AHANA community and for a research project, met with photographer Matthieu-Armara Diamondé. Arzu is inspired by Dr. King’s emphasis of “the role of the arts in the Civil Rights movement to encourage, uplift, and motivate himself and other world-changers around him.” After graduation, she hopes to continue to foster community among Black creatives, and “uplift Dr. King’s ideals and pave the way for the authentic, Black experience to be seen and acknowledged through my lens.”

Srina Lacet, Frederick, Md.
Majors: political science, African and African Diaspora Studies; minor in film; Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program member

An AHANA+ leadership council member, Lacet also is a F.I.S.T.S team co-captain and stepper, and Haitian Association AHANA+ caucus representative. She works at the AADS office and Women’s Center, and served as co-leader for the Black Women Matter Retreat. She is inspired by Dr. King’s use of storytelling and his notion of Beloved Community. Lacet hopes to pursue both legal and film studies after graduation, through which she will continue her passion for social justice and politics. 

Osasenaga Owens, Randolph, Mass.
Major: Business Management; Accounting for Financing and Consulting concentration

African Students Organization vice president, Owens is a member of BC’s Men’s Club soccer team and volunteers as an assistant varsity soccer coach at his alma mater, Boston College High School. With a passion for creating greater educational equity, he is inspired by Dr King in pursuit of this aspiration. After graduation he hopes to work at Deloitte Services LP, where he has done summer internships. In his career, Owens hopes to “combat the knowledge gap between Black and white students through community engagement with my corporate firm.” 

Ashley-Rae Stewart, Hollis, NY
Major: Sociology; minor in finance

Stewart has served as a resident assistant, a Management Leadership for Tomorrow Career Prep campus ambassador, a BAIC ambassador, Caribbean Culture Club secretary, and a Pine Manor Institute for Student Success coach.  She wrote a children’s book on bullying, The Friend I Never Wanted, given to schools and churches. She helped to launch the Carroll School of Management’s Diversity in Business Education Series and participated in the Community Advocacy and Research Engagement seminar. Interested in banking but discouraged by the underrepresentation of women of color, she is inspired by Dr. King exhorting others to become molders rather than searchers of consensus. Stewart will pursue a banking career after graduation, and hopes to inspire and mentor other people of color.

Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications | March 2023