Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Call to Serve

Forty-one years ago, the United States formally honored the contributions of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with commemoration of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday – which took more than thirty years to enact.

As we pause on January 15, Dr. King’s actual birthday, to recognize this champion for justice, we take stock of the accomplishments of this statesman, his work, and the historic I Have a Dream Speech that he delivered fifty years ago at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. We assess where we are, where we are going, and the power of one to uphold the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence, as documents that fully serve and embrace the needs of all people.

Acquainted with Dr. Ralph Bunche, HBCU graduate, Under-Secretary for Political Affairs at the United Nations, U.S. diplomat and civil rights activist, Dr. King was inspired by the work of the United Nations and visited the New York Headquarters for dialogs and discussions on peace. There is no coincidence that both Dr. King and Dr. Bunche would go on to win the Noble Peace Prize exactly fourteen years apart. These men shared great interest and fellowship in making the world a better place.

Thinking about the important discussions that continue to play out on the global stage at the United Nations, and the opportunity provided to Dr. King as a young scholar, HBCU graduate, and seeker of justice, today we also recognize the need to maintain pathways for youth to engage with the United Nations and to shape the world they want.

Along this theme, the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) launched the UNA-USA Fellowship Initiative – a stipend-based program to identify talent, fund living expenses, and thereby broaden the pool of Americans pursuing and receiving internships with the United Nations and its agencies – anywhere in the world.

“We need a diverse pipeline of leaders who look like America and understand the UN inside out. When I was a student, I was not able to afford a UN internship. Now, thanks to this scholarship, Americans who come from backgrounds like mine can.” This statement was expressed by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Representative to the United Nations at the 2022 UNA-USA UN Day luncheon where we announced the UNA-USA Fellowship.

To date, UNA-USA has sponsored thirteen Fellows, of which the medium age is twenty-two. Seven Fellows are graduate students, five undergraduate, and one recent graduate from a first-degree granting university. Fellows were accepted from schools on the East Coast (8), the West Coast (3), and the Midwest (2) and were placed in full-time internships in New York City (7), Washington, DC (3), Geneva (2), and Paris (1).

While assigned to different offices, including Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), the UN Secretariat, United Nations Information Center (UNIC), Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNTAD), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UNA-USA Fellows have learned about the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – a global to do list designed to leave no one behind.

In reflecting on this Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2024, his work, his courage, and his legacy, let us remember his quote: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

On this day, may we be mindful of the idea that each generation advances based upon the contributions of those who came before. May we continue to provide learning opportunities for youth that deepen skillsets that will serve the needs of others and encourage all to lend their voice to the betterment of humanity.

We invite you to learn more about UNA-USA, our movement, and how you can lend your voice to supporting peace, justice, and strong institutions. For more information, please visit

#MySDGDream, #MLK, #USAforUN

About the author: Mr. Troy Wolfe, HBCU graduate, is Senior Director, Partnerships & Special Initiatives at the United Nations Association of the United States of America. Troy leads UNA-USA efforts on strategic partnerships, the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Task Force, the UNA-USA Fellowship Initiative, and serves an advisory role to numerous UNA-USA Chapters.