Joyeuse Senga ‘20 always knew she was called to serve her community, but one experience at Samford was essential in helping her discover the importance of community engagement, education and social movements— The Jefferson County Memorial Project (JCMP) fellowship.
The Jefferson County Memorial Project, a grassroots coalition of community partners, researches documented racial terror, victims and their descendants; educates the public on the importance of this history, places historical markers and advocates for reform where racial injustice still exists today. Through the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership, Samford has been a strong institutional partner of the JCMP since its inception, with students, faculty and staff all involved in a variety of research, advocacy and community education initiatives.
Senga, who served as a 2019-20 fellow of the JCMP, was among those at Samford involved with JCMP since its beginning. She was motivated by the program’s mission to reckon with the history of racial injustice and build for a better more equitable future. During the fellowship, Senga published historical research to uncover untold stories of lynching victims and events that upheld the country’s system of racial terror.
“It was humbling to work through the research because when you think about lynching victims you think beyond just a name, but someone who had aspirations, dreams and family,” she said. “Then you have to present their story and think ‘How do you humanize him or her?’ or ‘How do I bring this story onto campus and connect it to the life we’re living now?'”
Senga was among the nine Samford students who served as JMCP fellows in 2020 including Shae Corey ‘20, Jillian Fantin ‘20, senior Sam Katulich, William O’Bryan Wright ‘20, third-year student at Cumberland School of Law Grey Robinson, senior Julia Sisk, Katie Thiebaud '20 and senior Haven Voorhees. In the last three years, Samford has had more JCMP fellows than any other higher education institution in the county.
"As one of our 40 institutional partners, Samford adds particular value in its community education efforts and promoting the research fellowship," JCMP’s executive Director, Joi Brown, said. "In particular, Joyeuse was a dedicated research fellow from the beginning and has now emerged as a remarkable ambassador and advocate in this work.”
The published research of the fellows included new findings on the county’s lynchings, such as previously undocumented victims, additional information on previously documented victims and events of racial violence.
Senga, who now serves as research associate to the vice chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity in Kigali, Rwanda, said her work with JMCP greatly impacted her professional work.
“Samford and JCMP taught me to take every moment as a learning opportunity,” she said. “Research can be so helpful in taking experiences from the past and helping to impact lives today. My current role involves a lot of research and writing to promote health care for all. The Samford community showed me that people are always willing to help and answer any questions and that’s the work ethic I bring to my new job in global health education.”
Senga continues to volunteer her time with Samford from afar. In the spring, Senga will share her experiences as a fellow in a presentation with students participating in this semester’s service cadre co-facilitated by JCMP’s executive director Joi Brown and associate director of the Mann Center Allison Nanni.
“Joyeuse was and is an exceptional student and leader,” said Nanni. “She has a great understanding of the need for community education regarding the dangerous ramification of racial terror. Samford students and faculty are part of groundbreaking research that honors the lives of Jefferson County lynching victims. This work serves as a vital tool to critically examine oppressive structures we see in our nation today.“
This year, five additional Samford students have been named JCMP Student Fellows — seniors Sarah Morgan Lake, Libby Rau, Natalie Tidwell, Aubrie Strange and Jones Willingham.
Learn more about the important work of the Jefferson County Memorial Project at jeffersoncountymemorial.com.