Christie Louis, this year’s recipient of the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. scholarship, said she first encountered King’s work in her fifth-grade history class, but she did not begin to understand the meaning of his words until later in life.
“It wasn’t until I found myself deeply troubled and conflicted with the racial climate in the United States during the summer of 2015, that I began my personal journey to understanding the radical words of MLK that have too many times been pacified to fit the white perception of him,” Louis said.
Louis, MCAS ’24, was announced as the winner of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Committee’s 41st annual scholarship on Tuesday night.
The scholarship is awarded to junior students who have demonstrated academic excellence, community service, leadership in extracurricular activities, and involvement in the African American community and issues surrounding African Americans both on and off campus, according to the committee’s website.
As the recipient of the full scholarship, Louis will receive up to $19,000 toward her senior year tuition. The other four scholarship finalists—Kaylee Arzu, Srina Lacet, and Ashley-Rae Stewart, all MCAS ’24, and Osasenaga Owens, CSOM ’24—will receive a $3,000 scholarship. Additionally, all finalists won a $1,000 gift certificate to the Boston College Bookstore.
When she considers the major challenges the United States continues to face regarding race and social justice, Louis said one issue she hopes to address is maternal health, particularly among Black mothers.
“Although I believe it is my personal mission to give back to the community that has given me so much in all areas of social justice and racial equality, I feel a deep-rooted call to maternal health as it pertains to Black mothers in the United States and Haiti,” Louis said.
Louis said she is a first-generation college student who is originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She spoke about the unequal treatment Black mothers receive during childbirth, particularly in the United States and Haiti.
“In the United States alone, Black mothers are four times more likely to die during childbirth compared to their white counterparts, due to overt racism and inadequate health care in urban communities,” Louis said.
Today, one in 80 women in Haiti today die from childbirth- or pregnancy-related issues, according to Louis. She shared that her grandmother was forced to give birth at home because the nearest clinic in Haiti was a one-day walk by foot.
“Subsequently, Haiti’s maternal mortality rate remains the highest of any country in the western hemisphere,” Louis said.
Louis said her cousin was denied pain medication in the United States during childbirth because she did not speak English. So, she hopes to create change through volunteer work and her future career.
“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.”
Louis is a volunteer at Rosie’s Place, a women’s shelter in Boston that provides food and shelter to women. Louis also serves as the events coordinator for the Haitian Association, the AHANA+ caucus coordinator, and co-leader of the Black Women Matter Retreat.
She also plans to work at a nonprofit organization this summer to help analyze and put an end to racial bias in the delivery room.
“I’ve accepted a position at TeamBirth, a nonprofit organization spearheaded by public health officials in clinical positions to analyze birth plans at 10 hospitals throughout the state of Massachusetts to ensure the elimination of racial bias during a Black mother’s delivery experience,” Louis said.
In the future, Louis hopes to become an obstetrician so she can support mothers in underserved communities.
“Beyond BC, I hope to become an OB-GYN serving primarily women in underserved communities to ensure that every mother is provided with equitable access to a safe childbirth experience,” Louis said.
During her acceptance speech, Louis thanked her family and the other Martin Luther King, Jr. finalists for their support. She also acknowledged her family in Haiti and said the award was not just for her, but also for them.
“I also stand on the shoulders of people back home,” Louis said. “… So, I hold them with me and I carry them with me.”