Every year, Warner Norcross + Judd honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by coordinating a Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Contest open to sixth graders within the Grand Rapids Public Schools district. We encourage students to reflect on the lasting impact of King’s teachings, and consider how we can continue to advance his work.
Now in its 15th
year, the contest engages over 350 students from more than 15 schools. The winner is invited to their essay at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids. The top three winners read their essays at the February Grand Rapids Public School Board of Education meeting.
Working alongside Grand Rapids Public Schools, the essay contest criteria is based off of Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress guidelines, ensuring that it can easily be worked into the classroom curriculum. Students are asked to read a passage and are given prompts to write an essay based off of the passage.
In 2019, student, teacher and school names were removed from the essays prior to judging to prevent unconscious bias in scoring.
This year’s winners are:
- Lydia Taylor, Center for Economicology — grand prize
- Luke Swanson, Grand Rapids Montessori — first runner-up
- Reese Wilcox, John Ball Zoo School — second runner-up
An additional 24 students from 11 different schools received honorable mentions.
Each winning and honorable mention student will receive a gift card to Schuler Books & Music and all others will receive a personalized certificate of participation.
The winning essays appear below:
Center for Economicology
There are people in this world who will never be able to understand the impact they made on this world. One is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He broke barriers and didn’t harm anyone. He believed that no matter who you are, what you have done and where you come from, you are welcome to be a person with the same rights as everyone.
In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a speech called “The Other America.” In this speech he made the point that there are two Americas. One is amazing and beautiful, one is terrible and ugly. We live in the terrible America. In that speech, he expressed the fact that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” By making this speech, he was responding to injustice in a constructive manner. With everything that is going on today in our America and in other places we need to use ways like his to solve injustice.
One way is to use peace. MLK never used violence, he only used peace. Peace can be very hard at times. Especially in our America. We just want to get it over with and sometimes that results in violence. It can be hard to use peace with so much hatred. We think that violence is the only way to go against the hatred but peace is an amazing way to solve anything. MLK loved peace. He was the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. We can solve injustice with peace. Ways to use peace are speeches and sermons like MLK did. Stay positive, be thankful for everything, and be kind. “Be the peace you wish to see in the world” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Another way is to love instead of hate. Love can break all barriers. It can solve any problem or injustice. Hate can’t do that. Hate has one power, and it is to destroy. Hate destroys everything that is good. Hate goes as far to destroy the hater. Love can heal wounds, treat the sick, give to the poor, and find hope for the hopeless. Hate can’t do that. We must stay with Love. There are two very good quotes about Love and hate. “I have chosen to Love. Hate is too great a burden to bear”- MLK.
“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” - Yoda.
Another way is to be kind. Kindness is very important because it can make you feel good about yourself. Kindness is also very important because it can go a very long way. By just saying a simple “Hello” to someone you see can make them a bit happier, so they will spread that small act of kindness to others. Others will spread it. Soon, kindness may be returned to you.
Using kind words in tough situations can change anything. It can bring Peace or show someone that they are loved. Kind Words may even have enough power to stop any war. Maybe the reason why we can’t just be kind sometimes is because we think that kindness is a big power. But, Kindness can be used by simply smiling or giving an honest compliment.
MLK was always kind. He listened to people, which is a huge quality of a truly kind person. So, by using simple acts of kindness, MLK changed the world and solved his injustices. Kindness can do anything. And who knows, someday maybe a simple smile from one person will change the world. “Kindness is a gift everyone can afford to give” - Unknown
We can use these ways and more to solve injustices in a constructive manner. MLK used these ways to solve his injustices and look how far we have come since then. No matter who you are, what you have done or where you come from, you are welcome to the same rights as anyone. We are now getting closer to being the Beautiful America, but will we fall back?
“Be loving and kind. Call everyone to your table of kindness” – Unknown
First Runner Up
Grand Rapids Montisorri
Our world is flawed, and not just physically. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “there are literally two Americas...,” and he was right. While there are not actually two identical United States of America, the racial segregation in the fifties was strong it divided the country. And though it’s been toned down heavily, it’s still here. Black people are constantly afraid to go into neighborhoods where they are the minority, and they do have reasons to be on edge. Yes, as of 2019, we are at quite a low point for racism.
Things definitely aren’t as bad as they were in the 1950s, or worse, the 1800s, but, if I’m being honest, slavery hasn’t stopped. America may not be forcing African Americans to make tobacco anymore, but there’s something similar: sweatshops. In this day and age, Asians too poor to make ends meet, including children, are forced to manufacture the products people on the right side of the tracks take for granted. Conditions in these awful factories are so bad, safety nets were recently added to stop workers from jumping off their roofs and killing themselves.
In America, black people are no longer enslaved or segregated, but they are still often denied being treated equally, or like people, for that matter. A white driver could speed 100 miles an hour down a busy street and simply get a ticket, whereas a black driver could be well below the speed limit and get arrested. How on Earth is that justice?
Examples like that go back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech from 1968 called “The Other America,” as he said in it, “Large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” It’s been proven time and time again that this is true. Pulling examples out of the millions, Rosa Park was arrested for taking a stand against segregation on buses, then Martin Luther King Jr. was silenced for good by an assassin’s bullet. In 2009, Alex Landau was pulled over by white police and searched, and when he asked to see a warrant, he was brutally assaulted and nearly killed. And let’s never forget the black schoolteacher who was pulled over with his young daughter and girlfriend and searched. He did have a gun in his car, but he had a permit for it and he explained this very clearly to the officers. On that day, without doing anything wrong, and in front of his family, he was shot and killed. Because of police brutality and racism, two lives were ruined and one was ended, and the killers got minor slaps on the wrist. Even with all those examples, I’ve barely scratched the surface of racist events in the country that’s supposed to be a melting pot of cultures, colors, and people.
And it isn’t just people native to America, no, day by day, immigrants desperate for a new start are turned away and deported, possibly to their deaths. This certainly isn’t helped by our current president, who plans to build a border wall between Mexico and the United States, and then make Mexico pay for it. American border guards are turning away people based on what they look like, and that is completely unacceptable. It’s time for us to do something about it.
This brings me to my final topic, which is how we’ve improved since times of slavery and how we need to improve. As I said before, we still show support for slavery somewhat, as shown by the sweatshops that unfortunately still exist. Finding an alternative to child labor is definitely a must, as it is unfortunately legal in some places. While it is still illegal in most places, they are paid very little money for back-breaking work making products such as iPads and iPhones, when kids shouldn’t be working in the first place and rich companies could just make those products themselves.
I would say that there have been a lot of improvements since the 1800s: black people don’t have to sit in the back of the bus anymore, and white people are a little more accepting. However, there are still a lot of problems that need to be solved, or else, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “...we’re all going to perish together as fools.” Firstly, there need to be new laws regarding police. Police officers should be a sign of protection and safety for everyone, yet for black people, they’re a symbol of fear and danger. Police brutality has taken many lives over the years, and it usually goes unpunished. Also, white people are constantly calling the police on black people, and most of the time, the black people aren’t doing anything wrong! Look, if you see a black person committing a crime, go ahead and call the police, they don’t deserve any more leniency than white people, and vice versa. But if you call the police on someone who’s not doing anything, you should be legally punished for wasting the operator’s time.
This final topic is just my opinion, but I do feel like it should become a reality. In my opinion, races should not exist. America should be a melting pot of people and cultures, and race is a lie. We don’t need to be classified as different species based on our languages and looks, we are all one species: humans. We are technically all related, so let’s act like it and stop judging each other for what we are.
Second Runner Up
John Ball Zoo School
I feel in the United States of America we have made a lot of progress toward racial equity since 1968. But, I think there is still room for improvement. Some of the things we can improve on are education, everyday life, dining, and public transportation.
One way we have made progress is in schools. In 1968 there were thousands of racially segregated schools. Many of the schools that African American children had to go to were small, left unclean, overcrowded, and had a lack of supplies and teachers. The schools that white children went to were usually very nice, large, clean, and had many supplies. This was a disadvantage to the African American kids. A good education is one of the building blocks to a successful life. The students that were white were able to have access to resources that helped to set them up for success.
Today, schools have a lot more diversity than schools back then. In Kentwood Public Schools, 36% of students are white and 30% of students are African American. The other 34% is made up of other ethnicities. There is more of a balance of races than there were in 1968. But this is still a huge issue in the US and we need to try to build on what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his speech and did, and try to have more racial equity in schools.
In addition to that, we have also made progress in everyday life. In 1968, African Americans couldn’t use the same water fountains as white people, dine in the same restaurant, swim in the same pools or use the same restrooms as white people. Finally, after many influential people spoke up about this and how it was an old tradition, and was very unfair, people finally started to see how unfair this was to African Americans. Today, African Americans and whites share water fountains, pools, restaurants, e.t.c. The Civil Rights act helped to change the racial barriers that were prominent in the 1960s.
There are still some changes that need to be made though. For example, at Buffalo Wild Wings in Chicago, Illinois, a customer did not want to eat dinner next to a black family sitting at the table across from them. The staff that night made the African American family move to the other side of the restaurant. The manager found out and was furious! He fired the waiter and staff that forced this family to move. So, we still need to make progress in our everyday lives toward racial equity.
In the United States, we have made progress in making public transportation more discrimination-free. In 1955, Rosa Parks was sitting on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to go home after a long day of work standing on her feet. At this point in time, African Americans were forced to move to the back of the bus or stand if a white person wanted their seat. A white man came onto the bus and demanded that Rosa get up and move. She refused and got put in jail. This is only one example of discrimination in public transportation, but there are probably thousands more people who faced racial discrimination on a bus, whose stories were never told.
As a society, we have made some progress, but we need to work on making public transportation completely racial discrimination-free. In October of 2019 in Utah, a mixed-race teenage boy was getting on a public bus to go to school. When he was getting off of the bus, the bus driver “accidentally” closed the door on the boy’s backpack. He drove more than a hundred feet dragging the boy by his backpack before he stopped the bus. This is another example of racial discrimination in public transportation.
In conclusion, the United States of America has made some progress in terms of racial equity, but there is still much we could do to make the United States completely free of racism. Unfair schooling, restaurants, and public transportation are just some of the places where, in 2019, there is still racial discrimination. There are many more places where we need to improve on this. For example, the workplace, housing, healthcare, sentencing, college applications, the list could go on for miles. Which means, in the US, we really need to work at making all of these things equal for every human being, despite their gender, income, house, or race.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, stated in his final speech, “We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school, be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike, but either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”
We can develop this kind of unselfishness by educating our society, increasing awareness about racial equity, and having real conversations about what is going on, and how we can change it for the better. But, we can only do this if we all work together.