Mwanga Mtengule (JRF ’01) is a senior associate in the New York office of Alston & Bird LLP and a member of the firm's Global Finance & Debt Products Group. The newly elected president of the Jackie Robinson Foundation Alumni Association, Mwanga received his law degree from the Duke University School of Law and his undergraduate degree from Harvard University. Recently, we turned our spotlight on Mwanga who talked about his involvement with JRF and his plans to further strengthen the Alumni Association.
Q: Tell us about your family and where you grew up.
A: I grew up on the south side of Chicago. My father was from Tanzania and my mother was a black American. Her family had been in Chicago for a couple of generations.
Q: At a very young age, what motivated you to work hard and excel?
A: I had a very unique experience. My parents were both 5’4” tall and they told me that my ticket out of our circumstances would not be as an athlete. My route, they told me, would be education and they made sure that education was my #1 priority. I was a scholarship recipient at the University of Chicago’s elementary school and I received a scholarship to attend my parochial high school. I did well enough to get into Harvard University.
Q: What attracted you to apply to the Jackie Robinson Foundation?
A: I was encouraged to do so by the local organization that provided me with the scholarships throughout my elementary and secondary school years. I remember the time I put into learning about Jackie Robinson and the Foundation and I remember the process being more intimidating than any of the colleges I applied to.
Q: What was your reaction when you were selected?
A: I was ecstatic. The Jackie Robinson Foundation was unique among the scholarships I looked at. I remember the welcoming reception. It was such a big deal with important leaders in attendance. I had not been exposed to such strong role models before. The interactions continued during my college years as we assembled in New York City each year for the Mentoring and Leadership Conferences. There were only 38 black males in my Harvard class and most had not come from similar circumstances as my own. It was wonderful to interact with other Scholars like me, from all over the country, who shared many of the same values.
Q: What motivated you to take on the leadership position at the Jackie Robinson Foundation Alumni Association (JRFAA)?
A: When I moved to New York City, I sought out the Foundation and became active in the Alumni Association providing suggestions and my thoughts about its direction. I guess it was time to “put up or shut up” and I decided to run for President in 2014. I am glad to have a strong alumni executive board team to work with and we have already begun to use various social networks like LinkedIn to bring the 1400-plus of us closer together and to share information. I am also soliciting ideas from other JRF alumni to help make us stronger and more supportive of the JRF. I have received quite a few suggestions!
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: At the JRFAA, we know that no matter where we end up, we all started off in relatively similar situations. We were minority kids from less than middle class financial circumstances who were often the first in our family to go away to college and so I think that there is that shared background –and a shared journey taken with the extraordinary help and guidance of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. These are things I’d like to stress going forward.