Congratulations to the 2022 MLK Essay Contest Winners.
We are very pleased to announce the winners of the 9th 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.
1st Place - Lex Truong, Franklin High School (Elk Grove Unified School District)
2nd Place - Aleeze Ali, Cosumnes Oaks High School (Elk Grove Unified School District)
3rd Place - Jasmyn James, Capital Christian High School (Private)
1st Place - Eddie Torres, California Middle School (Sacramento City Unified School District)
2nd Place - Kate Hwang, Brookfield School (Private)
3rd Place - Addie Luong, Folsom Middle School (Folsom Cordova Unified School District)
From the American Revolution to now, Americans have long debated over who to extend the vote to. For me, though, there is no debate. Should only the educated or propertied vote? Or only Whites? Or only citizens? Of course not. Every American deserves the choice to vote.
At the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, King delivered a passionate address about the promise of equality set by the three-year-old Brown v. Board decision and African Americans’ right to the ballot. He exhorted:
But even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.
Although King’s efforts pressured the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, we Americans still have much work to do. Even in 2020, many states use “conniving methods” to restrict African and Native Americans’ access to voting — imposing voter ID requirements, limiting the availability of polling places, shortening the timeframe of both mail and in-person ballots. While we currently struggle to get Americans to vote, these restrictions will further lower voter turnout. The People can not govern if they are not heard.
The question of who should be able to vote strikes at what it means to be an American. Unlike most other nations, we Americans are bound together not by one race or ethnicity, but by shared belief in the principles of equality and freedom — our “democratic tradition.” Drawn by these American principles, immigrants have come from all over the world to take part in our diverse society. America has not always lived up to its founding principles, but it has created a diverse culture, where differences bind peoples together. To maintain America’s role as the world’s bastion of cultural tolerance, we must extend equal rights and protections to all Americans, especially suffrage. The recent suppression of voting rights is simply un-American. Our nation has long progressed toward an equal future that allows everyone to reach prosperity — and we can not afford to backtrack.
In his speech to Langley High School’s class of 1994, former Justice Antonin Scalia described the three qualities needed to be “the best person you can be” — knowledge, judgement, and character. While not all Americans complete high school or college, every American can have good judgement. We don’t need knowledge to have good judgement, to be able to tell right from wrong, or to be able to vote. In the Early American Republic, the Federalists often granted suffrage to only propertied and educated men. They failed to see it then, but every American has the capacity to make sound decisions for the future of our nation.
We stand on the shoulders of giants who have endeavored to form a Perfect Union, an accepting nation that empowers all to succeed. The recent voter suppression mocks our predecessors and taints the American image of equality. Thus, with good judgement, we should resist these attacks on our democracy.
I hear Christmas chimes, ringing bells, as my English teacher reminisces on her father’s death. I tune her out to rest my eyes, behind the harsh glare of my laptop screen. I write a eulogy on Santa Claus and pass the class with flying colors.
We laugh about the Mongols, the plague, and all degrees of murder. My hands fall into a rhythm of their own as I mindlessly jot down the date of Hitler’s death. I pause to survey my room, hidden from the sun and awashed in shades of blue. I am a straight A student. I am surrounded by petty comforts. I am okay.
I am okay when I ignore my chemistry teacher to watch the raid on the Capital. I am okay when I grow more aware of my mirrors. I am okay when I watch a man spark a resurgence of civil rights protests through the cold embrace of death. I am okay when I clutch my phone to my face, my one window to a wider world, to see doctors and nurses in tears, begging to be heard. I am okay when I watch wounds bloom across the bodies of those who scream for true equity. I am okay when I watch policemen and politicians and the nauseating ugliness behind Martin Luther King’s work, still unfinished. And watch, and watch, and watch.
I am okay when I realize we were lied to, history glossed over for easier truths. I am okay when I hear of crowded hospitals turning patients away, of unceremonious deaths and contaminated corpses.
I am okay when we are forced to return as if nothing happened. I’ve evaded morning traffic. I can graph trigonometric equations. I laugh and eat and pretend to see the smiles behind my loved ones’ masks. I ignore the imperfections that stain my grade book. I still earn As.
For I am a student.
A United States citizen.
And I am okay.
During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I fell into uncertainty during the chaos. I felt discouragement over the loss of my friends, extracurricular activities, and what I thought was a full-bodied educational experience. Aspiring to apply to elite academic institutions, I thought I could never make up for my perceived educational losses. Instead, through persevering through the unpredictability, I emerged with new ideas about the distinction between education and schooling, and what being “educated” means to me.
Though always a good student, my educational experience pre-COVID focused on completing assignments and getting the perfect grade with the help of external motivation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” This definition is not confined to the walls of the traditional or limited by circumstances. Like everyone else I am required to attend school, where it can be so easy to mindlessly complete tasks to check the boxes, without properly absorbing the information or applying it to my life. School provides me with the ability to obtain a great education, but that is only if I decide to take control of my situation and maximize each opportunity to stretch my limits and take risks. It is through this value of personal investment that I make the greatest strides in achieving my goals.
Waking up to attend my daily Zoom classes and complete my assignments, I made the daily decision to apply myself and develop the discipline and internal motivation necessary to get the most out of my assignments. As I adapted to the new rhythm and flexibility of my new school system, I felt gratitude for the free time it provided me. With shorter classes and more individualized assignments, I found myself diving deeper into the material. I looked beyond the standards, searching for the complexity and correlation between my classes and the world around me. I had space to reflect on current events, form new opinions, and independently engage with diverse materials to supplement my educational journey.
When I returned to on-campus learning, I had the opportunity to tutor younger students who struggled with the self-regulation that remote learning required. This brings me to the second part of King’s quote: “Intelligence plus character– that is the goal of true education.” To be truly educated, it is not enough to learn something just to keep it to yourself, you must be determined to use what you learn to help others. Armed with my love of learning and compassion, I set out to empower my students to take ownership of their learning. Through tailored tutoring strategies and providing resources for them to use outside of our sessions, I inspired each student to reach beyond their perceived limitations. I helped bring them deeper into each subject while helping them fall in love with creating a practice of individual learning, just as I did.
“So long as I do not ﬁrmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
This quote shows how the limitation and restriction of voting entirely undermines the idea of a democracy. Disregarding the opinions and ideas of certain members of our democracy takes away their freedom of speech and individuality. I ﬁnd importance in this quote because of its great relevance in the modern day. It highlights what minorities and young voters feel in the midst of today’s complicated mess that voting has become. It has encouraged people who are disfavored to avoid voting entirely. This not only silences important voices in our democracy, but also ampliﬁes the voice of people in power. This worries me because Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of voting rights in a time of extreme segregation, and sadly, these words are just as relevant today.
Fifty seven years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. This act stopped the use of discriminatory methods, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, which greatly restricted minorities from voting. However, after the false accusations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election, new legislation was introduced that once again restricted the voting of minorities and youth.
Georgia has been especially targeted when it comes to these restrictions. This is due to Georgia's uncharacteristic support for Democratic candidates in the 2020 election. For example, identiﬁcation is now required for any absentee vote, however, student identiﬁcation is prohibited. This is blatantly directed at students in an attempt to stop them from voting. Georgia has also restricted handing out water to those waiting in voting lines. This outrageous legislation targets African-Americans because long lines are much more common in their communities.
When I ﬁrst heard about this legislation, I was appalled. It is unthinkable that states are trying to silence minority voices. This is undemocratic, as people in power are going out of their way to silence voices that need to be heard. As someone who will be able to vote in the near future, I feel greatly discouraged by these restrictions. I feel like I do not truly live in a democracy, as states try to silence the opinions of others. It is heartbreaking to see local governments prioritizing the suppression of minorities over the expression of their opinions. We need to pressure our government leaders into making it easier to vote as opposed to making it harder. We should also educate others on the insane legislation that restricts voting, so that more people are aware of what some states are trying to do, suppressing the voice of American citizens.
Kate Hwang, 2nd Place Middle School Division
President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, outlawed slavery; however, enforcement of the Proclamation took a slow, painful pace to reach the slaves of Texas, the most remote state of the former Confederacy. Only two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865, did the announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union General Gordon Granger, finally end institutional slavery in one of the last unfree states. That day became the recently federally recognized holiday of Juneteenth. However, just as the abolishment of slavery didn’t preclude Jim Crowe laws and segregation, recognition of Juneteenth does not end the racial injustices that persist in our society.
The world today is different from 1865, but not different enough. It takes nanoseconds for information and proclamations to be transmitted online across the world, yet some of us still believe African Americans are an inferior race. We know institutional slavery has ended, yet even I, a 12-year-old girl in Sacramento, California, understand that institutional racism still thrives.
But – you may ask – how can I, a third-generation Chinese American girl, understand the significance of Juneteenth? The answer is I can’t, at least not anywhere close to the depths of my African American friends, and even less so to the depths felt by their ancestors. However, I am beginning to understand that racism may not just be personal prejudice but rather is entrenched in how this country governs and disciplines. Patterns of discrimination that occurred in the 1800s continue today. Racism is woven into our criminal system (George Floyd), our educational system (the disproportionate disciplining of black students), and our health care system (uneven access to vaccines and PPE). I am beginning to understand that our choices today, even without intending to be racist, can fuel racism. But, I need the help of my teachers and community leaders for me to view racism with a wide-angle lens.
“100 years later, the negro still, is not free” As Dr. King delivered his powerful speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he praised Lincoln for freeing slaves from their bonds, but described how the African Americans were still not free, as they still faced segregation in America.
Fifty-nine years after Dr. King proclaimed those words, the negro still, is not free. The injustices of our criminal justice system and educational policy are only two of the legacies of slavery that persist. What can we do that has not already been done in the last fifty-nine years? We can implement tools in education to teach children about the persistence of segregation and racism, how it negatively affects our lives now, and what we must change to end it.
The world hasn’t yet learned how to accept everyone. We are only halfway down the path, but with the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, we are one step closer to the end of the hike.
I have never been one to not enjoy school. Life at home and life at school were separate for me. My life at home was more accurately described as my life in homes. My family was always moving; our life was constantly changing. Au contraire, the schedule and structure of school gave me something to count on. But remote learning for two school years showed me the flaws of the schedule and structure I love, and taught me to appreciate my (pretty crazy) life at home.
School during the COVID-19 pandemic was far from schedule and structure.While there was a set time for virtual classes on Zoom, there were no longer bustling hallways, leading to a classroom. Instead, the upper half of my body glitched behind a black frame with my name on a screen. This new structure gave me more freedom than I ever had, and before I even realized it, my “school life” merged with my “home life.”
Every day, I am no longer exhausted from a day of hard work and play, but from staring at a screen. I wake up early only to huff and puff at technical difficulties of getting on to my first virtual meeting and sit through every class afterward. A day of distanced learning is not complete until I want to throw my computer out the window.While the majority of my classmates did not engage in classes, I did. Only, I was becoming too much like the computer I sat in front of every day. I felt like I was a robot programmed to get As; to think and do whatever it took to get an A. But my memory card was wiped at the end of the school year.
Education stretches beyond the four walls of a classroom — its impact on students wavers. Our different learning environments foster growth in other areas aside from typical school subjects. I, for one, discovered new subject matters that spurred my passions.
So out of 24 hours, I spent three 335 uneventful minutes in a trance and I had freedom otherwise — to do whatever I wanted. And that’s what I did. In between classes and during lunch break, I discovered my hobbies and my passions.
While a school year during the COVID-19 pandemic took away so much from so many students, it gave me something I would have never found if I did not sit through hours of virtual classes each day. Education should not be forcing students to be robots to produce As. Education should disregard As and show students a world of building robots or flying planes, snapping photos, or leading organizations. Education should open students’ eyes to see the stars, but let the students connect them into constellations.
Distanced learning added a few constellations to my sky, but I am only just getting started. I have a whole universe I have yet to discover, and make my own.
Essay Contest Sponsored By
and Bernice Bass de Martinez
With support from Alcalay Communications and The Sacramento County Office of Education