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Pictured are the 2021 Essay Contest Winners with the Honorable Judge Vance Raye who presented the winners their awards.

Congratulations to the 2021 MLK Essay Contest Winners.

We are very pleased to announce the winners of the 8th 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 2021 MLK Essay Contest Theme: With COVID-19 Health guidelines in mind, describe an injustice that you see in today’s society and what you can do to address the issue and advancement of John Lewis’ call to action.

High School

Hang Trinh, West Campus High School (Sacramento City Unified) - 1st Place
Briseyda Olivares Rodriguez, Foothill High School (Twin Rivers Unified) - 2nd Place
Ben-Israel Gurjar, Hiram W. Johnson High School (Sacramento City Unified) - 3rd Place

Middle School
Jack Simon, Merryhill Midtown Sacramento - 1st Place
Miles Scaife, Harriet G. Eddy Middle School (Elk Grove Unified) - 2nd Place
Sofia Zotov, Martin Luther King Jr. Technology Academy (Twin Rivers Unified) - 3rd Place


High School Division
Hang Trinh, 1st Place High School Division

In today’s society, adults often experience various forms of injustice at work and in public. Likewise, children also undergo injustice in the form of bullying at school. In the case of bullying, an individual with more power unfairly harms one who is more vulnerable. In primary school, while waiting for my parents, I witnessed a scenario where an older student picked on a younger student. Witnessing the unjust act, I told myself that I could not remain silent even if it meant involving myself in trouble. Thus, I intervened and explained to the older boy how his actions could profoundly hurt the younger boy. Taking in my words, the older boy understood and quietly walked away. The younger boy then headed towards me with a relieved face, embraced, and thanked me.

At home, I told my parents the story. Coming to my cousins’ house, I told them the same story and the injustice behind bullying. By talking to my cousins, I realized that I have the power to influence others to end such an act of injustice. From there, whenever witnessing bullying scenarios, I step in and intervene. When interacting with younger kids, I inform them about bullying and its consequences.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis selflessly risked their lives to advocate for equality. As I support their mission through the simple acts of continuing to intervene in bullying scenarios and spreading the word, I hope that you can join me in ending bullying as well as other acts of injustice. Amid this health crisis, remember to practice social distancing and put on your mask before taking action! Together, humanity can further Dr. King, John Lewis, and other heroic activists’ mission in promoting equality. May the end of injustice come in the near future.

Briseyda Olivares Rodriguez, 2nd Place, High School Division

“Never be afraid to make some good noise and good trouble, necessary trouble.” John  Lewis’s famous words resonate with me as I reflect deeply on a human injustice that is often  overlooked: “modern-day slavery,” or human trafficking. The first time I was exposed to human  trafficking was a few weeks ago in my health class. I learned that millions of vulnerable people  are forced or brainwashed into having sex, being an object of pornography, or doing labor for  traffickers’ profit. Many are oblivious to this issue because it is not addressed as frequently as it  should be.

California and Florida require human trafficking education in schools but I think that this  should be a nationwide requirement. I followed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis’s  teachings about taking action in the hope of making this a reality. I wrote to the U.S. Department  of Education to propose a law requiring human trafficking education in our nation’s schools. The  law should say that all schools need a set program to teach students in middle school and high  school about human trafficking, how to identify signs, and where to seek help. I am confident  that this will increase safety in our country, save people’s lives, encourage other countries to act,  and bring us one step closer to change. I truly hope that they find potential in this law and send it to Congress. I also motivated my school’s Friday Night Live Club to add human trafficking  information to the many issues we raise awareness about on social media. I firmly believe that it  is my duty to bring attention to this injustice in as many ways as possible. I am a small person in  a huge world but I know that these small steps can help us abolish this injustice. 

Ben-Israel Gurjar , 3rd Place High School Division

An injustice we see every day is racism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis played their part to end it, and in 1964 the civil rights law superseded all state and local laws requiring segregation. Yet racism never really ended. It was removed from the system but not from the hearts of people. We see it every day, everywhere, inside the walls of the court, employment, neighborhood, shops, workplace, and public transports.

The incident with George Floyd proved that we weren’t far from step one. There was still a long way to go in this fight against racism. John Lewis encouraged non-violence and peaceful protests, but how can you fight something that is hidden? You cannot see inside someone’s heart.

The first step you can take to stop this is to teach your children. Children are like empty vessels. You choose what to fill them with. They will follow the path you show them. Show your children the right path, so when they are old, they may not depart from it.

Step two is to stand up. Racism is hard to spot. If you see it, stand up and don’t be afraid. Do what is right, even if you have to do it alone. There is no neutral side in this war. If you are silent, then you are just part of the problem.

Step three is to stop judging an entire race depending on one person’s action. Learn to see, without seeing the race.

Taking these steps is how we will shape the future that we can all look forward to. A future where people will not be judged by their race but by their character. In that, Dr. King’s dream will be fulfilled. 


Middle School

Jack Simon, 1st Place Middle School Division

Since the importation of African slaves early in America’s history, an implicit bias of Black Americans was created. Currently, racism appears as violent killings of unarmed African American men and women. Additionally, the struggle to get necessary PPE to Black Americans to survive the Covid-19 pandemic safely is a symptom of racism. Racism has sparked mostly peaceful protests across our country like the Black Lives Matter movement.

Today, racism continues to be an injustice, which is commonly fought within peaceful protests. The Covid-19 pandemic was just appearing in the US when the news of the killing of Ahmaud Aubrey surfaced. He was simply on a jog when he was shot by two white males in a pickup truck. In the summer, an iPhone video was released of three police officers on top of George Floyd, which resulted in his death. There were large marches to honor George Floyd and for people to voice their opinions about systemic racism in America. With Covid-19 roaring, the protests of George Floyd’s death against racism set an example of peaceful and safe protests. Many protestors wore masks and other PPE, setting an example for others to stand up for what is right, but also to protect fellow Americans. Just like MLK and John Lewis, peaceful and safe protests are the key to fixing what is wrong in our country.

The legalization of gay marriage and other LGBTQ+ rights resulted from peaceful protests. What I can do to combat racism is to attend peaceful protests and other forums against racism. The countless protests against the killings of unarmed black men and women have led to laws being created to outlaw chokehold and no-knock warrants. Therefore, I should join peaceful and safe protests to combat racism in my community.

Miles Scaife, 2nd Place Middle School Division

"You must be bold, brave, and courageous and find a way... to get in the way." This quote by John Lewis is something that everyone should try to live up to. He preached “get in trouble, necessary trouble” without violence just like Martin Luther King, Jr., and they both fought to end legalized racial segregation. He had extraordinary courageousness and leadership that helped with several protests to uphold the rights of colored US citizens. If we try to live up to John Lewis’s great words, then we should start small and work our way up to something bigger. Something small during these tough times would be interacting with lonely elderly people. There are multiple things that we can do to help in this small problem, but there are some that are more effective than others.

One way we can help elderly people during these tough times is to send them cards or video chat with them. For example, recently my grandpa was stuck in the hospital for 5 days, and for half of the time he was there he had no glasses, no way to contact anyone outside of the hospital and no entertainment. One could imagine that this is pretty lonely. My mom would make us call him everyday to check up on him and see if he’s okay, even if we didn’t want to. In the end, we made him feel a lot better since we interacted with him. If we just put a little joy in elderly people’s hearts by talking to them, then we can make them feel better. If we continue to follow the path of people like John Lewis or Martin Luther King, Jr., then we will fulfill a lot in life. The world would change for the better and people would act differently.

Sofia Zotov, 3rd Place Middle School Division

In July 2018, John Lewis sent out a tweet with the hashtag #goodtrouble. Lewis stated, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” Lewis epitomizes this and encourages us to not be silent. Lewis taught us persistence. He taught us that when a person has transformative ideas, they should not taper those ideas. Instead, they should push those ideas until others get on board. This is what John Lewis meant by #goodtrouble. Lewis also teaches us that age is nothing but a number and that young people have to be the change they want to see by pushing for equitable change, even if it means informing and standing up to older generations.

One person that has been encouraging me and teaching me to get into good trouble is my mother. The reason I chose my mother was because she always finds a way to connect and encourage me when I make a mistake. My mother always told me “No matter how tough the world is, never give up and to always forgive and always forget”. What my mother meant is that we are living in a very dangerous time right now. Even though it is tough right now, because of her advice, I will never give up. This world is dangerous and unpredictable, especially since there is a lot of harassment and racism between many people. Since Covid-19 started, people are starting to forget that America is a free country with a lot of opportunities. These include the voices of the young people to stand up and take charge. I am glad to have a mother that can speak to me and help me make the right decisions in my life.


Essay Contest Sponsored By

Alcalay Communications, Governors Inn Hotel and The Sacramento County Office of Education