The Gandhi King student and faculty participants in front of a University of Alabama sign

UA Selected for First Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama has received an award to implement the first ever Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, partnering with Alabama A&M University in the new program.

The Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative aims to inspire and develop a group of 20 aspiring young civic leaders from India and the United States to work together to advance civil rights, social justice and inclusion locally, nationally and internationally by exploring the histories and legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The program is part of the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative Act, championed by the late Congressman John Lewis and passed by Congress in 2020.

“It is an honor for The University of Alabama to receive the inaugural Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative award,” said Dr. Joy Burnham, professor and director of the UA College of Education’s Office of International Programs. “We thank the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. The faculty bring a unique alignment of experts to train, encourage and enhance the 20 amazing, emerging leaders. This is a journey of learning, advocacy, impact, inspiration and working together to make a difference in the future.”

Participants will examine the themes of peace, nonviolence and conflict resolution while building a network of young leaders from the U.S. and India. The program employs an innovative, multipronged framework using social studies, art and counseling to discuss academic themes, process and reflect on program activities, and build participants’ leadership capacities.

“In a time of much political divisiveness, mistrust in leadership, civil disruptions and social tension, and polarity, I believe the Gandhi-King Exchange Initiative couldn’t have come at a more fitting time,” said Demitrius Barksdale, a UA doctoral student and program participant. “This program allows for each of us to grow in servant leadership, civic engagement and cultural exploration while engaging in curriculum, discussion and travel. The initiative is investing in the next generation of leaders through encouraging empathic advocacy and leadership.”

The exchange opened with a one-week virtual program and orientation followed by a two-week academic residency hosted at UA and Alabama A&M University this summer. In addition to classroom learning and discussion, participants visited civil rights sites in Montgomery; Selma; Birmingham; Memphis, Tennessee; and Atlanta. In January 2023, all the Indian and U.S. participants will reconvene in India for an experiential learning component focused on civic movements inspired by Gandhi.

“I have been most excited to learn how to lead with integrity, even when times are challenging,” said Barksdale. “Our world needs leaders who can remain composed, and those who can engage with others beyond their disagreements. There are no greater examples of this style of leadership than Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”


Bryant Welbourne, UA Strategic Communications,, 205-348-8325


Dr. Joy Burnham, UA College of Education,