Scholar Makes Connections at the Columbia Urban League

When the huge envelope arrived last April 15, Samanuel Martin stood there in disbelief.  As he shared his story, he said, “I couldn’t imagine why some one would play such a joke on me.” But it wasn’t a prank. Samanuel had been selected as a Gates Millennium Scholar.

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was established in 1999 to provide outstanding minority students who have significant financial needs with the opportunity to complete their undergraduate college education. Continuing Scholars may also receive funding for a graduate degree within one of the program’s focus areas. That day in 2014, Samanuel joined an elite group of young people who will undoubtedly become our future leaders.

Samanuel attributes his success to his family and long-standing involvement with the Columbia Urban League. While he grew up without financial means, a constant in his life was his mother and grandmother’s love and support. They let him know that a good education was the only way out of the situation he was born into. And now he will be the first college graduate in their family.

In middle school, Samanuel made his initial connection with the Urban League by attending the Youth Development Academy, a two-week summer camp. “What I remember most about this experience was that the instructors did not treat us like kids and we talked about “real” topics.  One of my biggest takeaways was that I should always be aware of the people I associate with,” shared Samanuel.

The summer after his freshman year in high school, Samanuel joined the Urban League’s Digital Connectors Program. This national initiative is designed to teach leadership development and digital literacy skills. Participants are then required to teach others these skills.  He enjoyed sharing his love and knowledge of computers with others, including his mother, grandmother and brother.

As an outstanding program participant, Samanuel was invited to attend the National Urban League’s Youth Summit in Boston. “This was an amazing experience for me. I learned so much and met people from all over the country,” he said. “And the following year the Urban League hired me to teach others through the Connector’s after school program.”

Samanuel’s next connection came through Project Ready Mentor, a signature program of the National Urban League, which prepares youth for post high school success and college. On Saturdays he would meet and listen to inspiring speakers from the community. This program offered a glimpse into his future possibilities.

Today at nineteen years old, Samanuel is a freshman at North Carolina State majoring in engineering. And while many freshmen struggle to take on the responsibilities of college, Samanuel received Freshman Honors from the Multicultural Student Affairs Department for his academics during his first semester away from home. His mother and grandmother proudly sat in the audience when he received this recognition.

Samanuel has a bright future ahead. His plans include a career in medicine and bioengineering. And fortunately he doesn’t have to worry about paying for his education thanks to Gates. One of Samanuel’s many connections at the Urban League, Juanita Dean-Bates, program manager of the Project Ready Mentor Program applauded him. “He is an outstanding young man and without a doubt he is going to impact our global society in a phenomenal way!”

You can connect with the Columbia Urban League and its many programs at or (803) 799-8150.

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