Student Leader Presented Award

EWU student, Sanai Maraire, received the President’s Student Civic Leadership Award for her work planning the inaugural MLK Day of Service: Empowerment Through Action conference in downtown Spokane. She was recognized at an April ceremony at The Museum of Flight, in Seattle.

As president of the Black Student Union (BSU) at Eastern, Maraire wanted has made a lasting contribution to the university while taking the organization to a new level.

“I’ve been a part of it [BSU] since I was a sophomore, and I felt like we stayed stagnant,” Maraire says. “I wanted to do something new and add an event to our name that people come to expect from us.”

Award-winning student leader, Sanai Maraire, is pictured in EWU's mall.
Sanai Maraire

Under the guidance of Angela Schwendiman, assistant dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and director of Africana Studies, the BSU applied for the 2024 Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service grant to help fund the conference. Their competitive proposal earned a $7,000 award.

“Our plan was to focus on empowerment through action. We focused on how students can continue the legacy of empowerment, how they can implement that empowerment in clubs and on campus – and continue to generate it as their college careers progress,” Maraire says. “We tied this into Martin Luther King Jr.’s Civil Rights empowerment.”

The BSU hosted their first Martin Luther King Jr. Day conference in collaboration with Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day events. “Angela Schwendiman suggested we put it all into one day and get more people to come, to see the conference, and what we’re talking about,” says Maraire.

After the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally in downtown Spokane, on Jan. 15, the BSU brought their conference to the Spokane Convention Center. The conference featured inspirational community leaders as keynote speakers, including Betsy Wilkerson, president of the Spokane City Council; Oscar Harris, chief family and community engagement officer for Spokane Public Schools; Robin Kelley, chief diversity officer at Gonzaga University; and Lisa Gardner, the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who also serves as director of community engagement for the city of Spokane.

The energy and effort placed into the conference contributed to Maraire’s nomination for the award. Recipients are chosen from students enrolled in institutions that are part of the Washington Campus Coalition for the Public Good, a consortium that works in partnership with state colleges and universities to “cultivate vital and sustainable communities based on civic engagement and social entrepreneurship.”

Apart from the Martin Luther King Jr. Day conference, Maraire has demonstrated a commitment to civic engagement through her efforts to drive an increase in participation in Eastern’s BSU.

During the month of February, for example, the BSU hosted weekly information sessions for Black History Month. Some of their themes included Black mental health, activism, and Black love. Currently, the BSU is preparing for their annual Black Excellence Ball, which celebrates the work of the BSU and those who supported them throughout the year.

Maraire, who plans to practice law, is set to graduate in June with a bachelor’s degree in political science. After graduation, she plans to take a gap year to intern, volunteer and study for required tests.

“Once I graduate, I hope to leave behind that drive to take the BSU to a heightened level,” she says. “I hope future presidents keep the motivation to add more events. And I want people to understand the ways that you can assume that empowerment role on campus and stay secure in that position.”