Boston College student Angela Donkor, a Bronx resident who grew up on three different continents, has been awarded the 2011 Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Scholarship at Boston College.
The scholarship, presented annually to a BC junior who reflects King’s philosophy in his or her life and work, is just one of a long list of accolades for Donkor, who has previously been honored with a Gates Millennium Scholarship and two scholarships from the Magic Johnson Foundation.
Winning the MLK, Jr. Scholarship “means that I am on my way to accomplishing what I came to BC for, which was to be the best student I can be while serving those in need,” says Donkor, a graduate of The Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice and a political science and international studies major at Boston College.
Donkor’s life began in the village of Konongo, in southern Ghana, where she and her twin sister and her brother were born. Their parents, trying to make a better life for the family, found work in Italy and left the children with Angela’s grandmother. Angela’s twin died when they were eight. When the grandmother died shortly thereafter, Angela and her brother were reunited with her parents in Italy.
When she was 16, her family moved to the United States. At school, Donkor finished second in her class while helping revive the school’s track program and starting a peer tutoring initiative.
It was as a student at Boston College that Donkor returned to Africa for the first time since childhood. She traveled to Uganda and Rwanda, where she worked with children orphaned because of HIV/AIDS and interviewed women who were using microfinance loans to help improve their lives. She also visited the memorial to the Rwandan genocide.
“I remember looking at the children and thinking, ‘What made me special that God would give me so many blessings in my life?’” says Donkor. “’We didn’t choose where we were born, or what families we are part of. Why am I not still here in Africa?’ These are questions I don’t know if I’ll ever answer.”
At BC, Donkor is conducting a research project on immigrants’ experiences. She traveled to Kuwait to interview workers at hotel. She worked as a waiter to better connect with her interview subjects. She believes that solutions to social problems are inextricably linked to empathy and practicality.
“If I can understand what you go through day by day, then it helps me to learn about you. Why is that important? Because if you want to make changes that help people, you should have access to the people you want to make those changes for.
I have been able to learn and grow in part because when I’ve arrived at a new place, people have educated or corrected me to help me adjust,” said Donkor, who is continuing her study of immigrants’ experiences this semester in China. “Yes, being an immigrant means there is a struggle, but this struggle does not define your life — not if you don’t let it. For a child from Konongo to come to BC seemed such an unlikely possibility, yet it happened — it’s something to celebrate.”
While at Boston College she also has tutored students, volunteered at a local house of correction, written for the student newspaper and served as an admission tour guide.
Donkor speaks Italian, Spanish, English, a Ghanaian dialect, as well as a little Mandarin, and dreams of working as Secretary-General of the United Nations or returning to Ghana to lead that country.
“When I think about the similarities between Dr. King’s life and mine, I think about using the challenges life throws at us as empowerment. I wanted to be thought of as a conqueror, not a victim. If my story can perhaps empower others to work for diversity, then it is all for the good.”