By Melissa Parker
When Emma Mansberg first started exploring colleges, she imagined herself choosing a school that was far away from the South. Growing up in a southern city, she had seen the effects of social injustice for much of her life. Going to school in a different part of the country would allow her to escape that culture, she believed.
“I realized there was no reason to run away from the things I didn’t agree with and wanted to change about the South,” said Mansberg. “I needed to go to a school where I could be a part of making a difference.”
From the moment she started her journey at UA three years ago, she has been boldly doing just that.
Mansberg, who is now a senior, received the Horizon award at the 12th annual Realizing the Dream Legacy Banquet on Jan. 17. The award goes to a young person who demonstrates outstanding vision and hope in promoting social justice, equality and peace.
Mansberg displays these qualities every day – whether working as a freshman with the SaveFirst tax initiative to prepare taxes for low-income individuals, or standing up and fighting for those who have been hurt by others on campus.
She doesn’t necessarily see it as worthy of an award, though, just a part of who she is.
“I didn’t expect this at all, and it’s really made me take a step back to reflect on why I’m receiving this amazing award,” Mansberg said. “When you work in activism, you serve without the expectation of recognition. You do it because it matters, whether or not someone says thank you.”
That’s the kind of compassion Mansberg was raised to have.
“My parents taught me the Jewish principle that the world is broken, and it’s our job to repair it,” she said. “I think I really internalized this and have made it my life’s work.”
From an early age, Mansberg, who is majoring in political science, knew she wanted to challenge the world she lived in.
“I’m from Memphis, the city where Dr. King was assassinated,” said Mansberg. “Because of this, I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility to make my city and the world a better place. I have this ideal of what it could look like … a world without discrimination.”
Activism and leadership
Mansberg said one of the reasons she chose UA was because it offered organizations that would allow her to make a difference.
One of those organizations is the Blackburn Institute, a leadership development organization with a civic engagement focus, in which Mansberg serves as the student chairperson.
“The Blackburn Institute has been one of my favorite aspects of my college career,” Mansberg said. “It has introduced me to leaders and change-makers across the state who are addressing issues that are oftentimes not talked about enough.”
Mansberg is also a University Fellow in the Honors College, which allowed her to spend a summer in Marion implementing a social action initiative, as well as a director in the Honors College Assembly, where she focuses on planning civic engagement and volunteer opportunities.
Despite her humility, others have taken notice.
“I have been inspired time and again by Emma Mansberg’s compassion for others and her determination to fight for those left behind by our society,” said Lane McLelland, director of UA’s Crossroads Community Engagement Center, who nominated Mansberg for the Horizon award. “Her joyful spirit and passion for justice are contagious. Emma is an outstanding young woman whose work to make the world a better place is only just getting started.”
Mansberg’s work on and off campus doesn’t leave much free time. Still, she makes it a priority each week to connect with her fellow Jewish students. On most Friday nights, you can find her having dinner with her community at the Bloom Hillel Student Center.
This particular Friday night in January was a little different, however. With her parents watching, Mansberg accepted an award for living out a vision she began developing long before she arrived at UA.
“It’s always been my hope to help create a world where people are safe to be who they are, no matter their color, religion, sexual orientation or anything else,” said Mansberg. “A world where different people can sit around the same table and feel comfortable and loved.”
Mansberg will graduate in May. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in marketing, as well as a law degree, all in preparation for continuing her fight to change the world.
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.