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2020 MLK Essay Contest Winners
Pictured are the 2020 Essay Contest Winners with the Honorable Judge Vance Raye and Honorable Judge Emily Vasquez.

Congratulations to the 2020 MLK Essay Contest Winners.

We are very pleased to announce the winners of the 7th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Essay Contest in conjunction with the MLK Celebration event. The essay contest was created to further engage our youth with Dr. King’s legacy, his vision, and leadership that inspired a nation.  The 2020 MLK Essay Contest Theme: In 1957, Dr. King said to an audience in Montgomery, Alabama “Life’s most persistent and urgent question: What are you doing for others?“ In your essay, please tell us what you are doing for others and why you believe what you are doing is important.

High School

Mai-Anh Nguyen, Vista Del Lago High School – 1st Place
Syrai Harris, Folsom High School – 2nd Place
Polly Fa’ anati, Del Campo High School – 3rd Place

Middle School

Phong Nguyen, Winston Churchill Middle School – 1st Place
Elijah Baza Huerta, Celebration American Lakes – 2nd Place
Amisha Sundar, Harriet Eddy Middle School – 3rd Place

High School Division
Mai-Anh Nguyen,
Vista Del Lago High School – 1st Place

Through his compelling words and peaceful actions, Martin Luther King Jr. spurred a
nationwide movement backed by the purpose of promoting equal rights for all. Dr. King did not just fight for himself, he fought for those around him. Decades later, it is his selflessness and his compassion that created a legacy that continues to influence us today.
We can continue to keep Dr. King’s legacy alive by taking action for others. I personally
did so in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, a district brimming with a large homeless population.
People often walk past the homeless with ignorance or disdain. In reality, they are people who are simply trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, crime, and addiction, unable to escape from unlucky circumstances. A living situation does not define one’s character. They too have a story.
During my time in San Francisco, I made it my mission to learn the stories of the
homeless and aid them in any way I could. I saw firsthand how difficult their living situation was. They lived in small tents, crammed on narrow sidewalks. Seeing this motivated me to help. I aided by walking the streets of the Tenderloin and passing out food and sanitary products to the homeless. In the course of doing so, I met a man who told me how he was thankful every time he woke up, thankful to live another day. He never knew when he was going to get his next meal or his next shower and yet he still found ways to be grateful. There were still kindlings of hope inside of him that kept him optimistic. While the items I passed out were small, the gesture was enough to spark flames of hope. It gave them enough encouragement to go one more day.

Syrai Harris, Folsom High School – 2nd Place

Throughout his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, Martin
Luther King Jr. used his skills to help enact positive change across the nation. In a similar vein, I have used my personal skills to make a difference in my community.
Each year, starting in 2016, I have embarked on a 6-month journey to produce a calendar
to raise money for local breast cancer survivors. Starting in May, I gather models to feature in the calendar, some have a direct connection to breast cancer like a mom or an aunt and others just want to help. I encourage them and their families to sell the calendars to benefit survivors. I sell advertising to businesses to cover printing costs. I also work with a local support group to select recipients of the money we’ve raised.
We have a launch party for the calendar in October to present money to selected
survivors. This year, we had our first male recipient. I often get non-monetary donations –gift cards, free car washes–so I asked him what he needed most. He said he wished he had stable housing, a car, and the ability to see his doctor regularly. I couldn’t give him these things, after all, I’m just a kid recruiting other kids to sell calendars, but his words put everything into perspective. There are people forced to choose between paying rent and affording chemotherapy.
When I donate money through the calendar, I hope to make it so that people don’t have to make these hard choices. Dr. King dreamed of a world where people are judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate and I dream of a world where those impacted by the disease can survive and thrive.

Polly Fa’ anati, Del Campo High School – 3rd Place

Over the past two years I have been involved in Key Club. Key Club has aided me in
finding volunteer opportunities such as making stuffed dolls for hospitalized kids to give them a little sense of warmth during the holidays. The best part was that we were able to make these dolls with adults and children who struggle with special needs. I also got the opportunity to volunteer for a toy drive to assist families that couldn’t buy presents for their kids during the holiday season.In addition each year I’ve been apart of Key Club, I’ve had the opportunity to help out with crab feed organized by Kiwanis. There are a lot of events held at the La Sierra Community Center and Koobs Nature Area that I volunteer for such as helping with clean-up around the area, setting up an appreciation event for veterans, and setting up stations that give children the opportunity to explore nature. This weekend I have the chance to go to a senior living home with some of my fellow Key Club members and entertain some seniors with a few christmas carols and it’s something I’m looking forward to because I love bringing a little holiday spirit to people. Last year, I joined Link Crew to become a mentor for freshman. I love being a helping hand so being able to guide freshmen on the right path during their first year of high school is a great experience. As a link crew member I make sure to help any lost freshman or give my best advice to them when they need it.

Middle School
Phong Nguyen, Winston Churchill Middle School – 1st Place

Finding the cure for cancer, donating millions of dollars to charity, or leading a
revolutionary march, these are all impressive contributions to positive change. However, as a society, we put so much emphasis on these significant contributions that we forget the
importance of small acts of kindness. Although I certainly haven’t discovered the cure for cancer, I make an effort to spread love in my daily life. Even the simple gestures like holding the door for someone, saying thank you, or smiling– could make a dramatic impact in someone’s life.
On Sundays, I volunteer at a local church, caring for kids while their parents attend the
service. Knowing some kids may have separation anxiety, I try to make our brief time together as fun as possible. By identifying their interests and engaging them in conversations, I am able to connect with them, no matter the age gap. We play fun games such as Lego building and Jenga.
We engage in thrilling conversations like videogames, sports, and school. One of the most memorable moments is when I interacted with a boy, who appeared shy. He opened up after we talked about his favorite football team, the Steelers. We joked around, boasting about our favorite teams and predicting the outcome of the Steelers vs. Colts game. To my disappointment, but to his excitement, the Steelers beat the Colts this season. More importantly, my actions have a rippling effect. While I play with the kids, the parents are able to attend an uninterrupted church service.
Although I may not affect many people, demonstrating love and compassion towards the kids is what I do for others. If each of us can continue our small acts of kindness, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of our world could become a reality.

Elijah Baza Huerta, Celebration American Lakes – 2nd Place

I am helping others by volunteering at a local faith-based organization during different holidays. Each year I helped set up game booths, prizes, food and toys for families in the neighborhood in an underserved community in South Sacramento. Each event is different but the help I give is the same. During their spring event, I was the Easter bunny at an egg hunt carnival. I danced and waved at the little children. I also took pictures with them. Later, I hosted a game booth and passed out prizes to the winners. When I volunteer in December, we drive into the neighborhood playing music. Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus take pictures with the little children of the families. My family and I donate toys and cookies to this event. The families that get the gifts need them the most. It puts a smile on their face each year. This neighborhood is not the safest but at this event, you can feel unity and happiness. I believe that it is important to help others in need. Spreading hope and joy is a gift we can always give to others. Being a part of creating memories for families makes my life better. I also believe that our world needs more safe places and equality. These neighborhoods deserve to be safe. I will continue to volunteer throughout my life. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived a selfless life. His positive influences and activism help create the March for Freedom. I have walked this march in Sacramento to remind others of his legacy. He showed us how to stand up in hard times and speak for equality. He made history by serving others. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will always be an inspiration and reminder in my life to help those in need.

Amisha Sundar, Harriet Eddy Middle School – 3rd Place

Many people have a kind heart and do many things for others that makes them smile. Doing things for others are remarkable deeds. There are many things people do for others. To begin with, when you do something kind to someone, they feel appreciated. Being kind to people is really important and is a top priority to a lot of people. Another thing that I see others do is community service. Community Service is work that you want to do without being paid and this shows that you care about your community. Volunteering at places are really appreciated by workers. At my mom’s work, Dignity Health I saw others helping the sick people. Some places I volunteer at is Thrive Church, Briarwood Post Acute, Marion Mix Elementary School, and Harriet Eddy Middle School. Finally, whenever I see someone having a bad day or looking sad, many people help them feel better and make their day a whole lot better. Overall, there are many people in my community that I see doing helpful things to others.
Everyday, I try to do many things for others to make their day more pleasurable. On a daily basis, I try to always help people and be an amazing friend. To start off with, usually in my classes, if anyone needs help with their homework or assignments, I can help them if I am finished. In addition, something else I do is donate to Goodwill because there are many people in the community who can’t afford things. I enjoy helping people by giving away some of my gently used things. Furthermore, multiple times in a year, my family and I give food and water to homeless people who live dreadful lives. So many people lose their jobs and homes so they live on the streets which is very depressing. Finally, I volunteer at places like schools, nursing homes, and many more . Ever since 4th grade, every school year my goal is to earn at least 24 hours of community service to help others around me. Over these years, I have grown a habit to try to help people. I enjoy doing things for others. Therefore, my goal is to help more people in the future to become a better person.

Essay Contest Sponsored By

Alcalay Communications
Governors Inn Hotel
Sacramento County Office of Education