Discovering Leadership and Global Insights: A Student's Gandhi-King Journey

Zharia Lankford, a student at Stillman College, embarked on a life-changing journey last summer as part of the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative, a program designed to delve into the philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This five-week initiative included a two-week academic residency on civil rights and Jhamya Moton in Indialeadership experiential learning in India, and is a collaborative effort between the University of Alabama, Stillman College, and Shelton State Community College.

Lankford was one of more than 20 students from the three institutions in Tuscaloosa to make the trek. For Lankford, this experience was nothing short of transformative. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that a lot of people don’t get, and it was just very exciting,” she shared. “I got to see the Taj Mahal.”

One of the key takeaways for Lankford was the realization of her own leadership potential.

“I never thought I had the potential to be a leader, but going through this program definitely taught me that I did,” she explained. “Our residency in the United States was really fun. I had so much inspiration from our United States residency, going to these different museums, and just learning a lot about what the actual Civil Rights era was about. That opened my horizons. And then going to India was just spectacular. We went to museums over there as well. Just seeing how other people lived was amazing.”

Lankford was particularly struck by the fresh food in India, which inspired her to think about ways to bring similar access to fresh food to communities in the United States.

“Everything that we had was fresh, and that kind of inspired me in my philosophy to bring that back over to the United States and see how I could apply giving people of color fresh food,” she shared.

The program also provided Lankford with new insights into the lives of historical figures she admired and grew up in the shadow of as a Georgian.

“I didn’t know (King) worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution when he was around 15 or 16 years old. So that was news to me,” she remarked.

In addition to her personal growth, Lankford is using her experience as the basis for her senior thesis.

“I’m actually making this into a documentary. So it’s going to be a part of my senior thesis,” she explained. “I’m actually writing a paper about how pilgrimages shaped and molded the activism and leadership of leaders, especially leaders of color.”

Lankford and other participants also have the opportunity to implement action research projects, which are funded through the program.

“We implement these projects and we actually get grant money for our projects,” she noted.

The Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative is now accepting applications for its upcoming program, which will be held from June 16 to 29, 2024. Interested students can apply online for this unique opportunity to exchange civic rights ideas, improve leadership skills, and become a member of the U.S. State Department’s International Exchange Alumni. The program covers round-trip airfare, housing, meals, insurance coverage, and travel and transportation fees.

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