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Congratulations to the 2024 MLK Essay Contest Winners.

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 11th 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, vision, and leadership that inspired a nation.  Thank you to Judge Bunmi Awoniyi, Presiding Judge for Sacramento Superior Court and Kandace Redd, ABC10 Reporter for presenting the awards.

View the video announcing the 2024 MLK Essay Contest Winners produced by ABC10.

2024 MLK Essay Contest Winners

High School

1st Place - Matthew Mellijor, Vista Del Lago High School (Folsom Cordova Unified School District)
2nd Place - Lamar Holmes, C.K McClatchy High School (Sacramento City Unified School District)
3rd Place - Jackson Urrutia-Andrews, Vista Del Lago High School (Folsom Cordova Unified School District)

Middle School
1st Place - Abhinav Deshpande, Sutter Middle School (Folsom Cordova Unified School District)
2nd Place - Parami Jayakody, Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School (Davis School District)
3rd Place - Ashar Orakzai, Winston Churchill Middle School (San Juan Unified School District)


High School Division
Matthew Mellijor, 1st Place High School Division

In the darkness of intolerance, at odds with astounding prejudice, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. found hope. He sought to leave a legacy of advocacy with his moving and motivational speeches, defining the 1960s Civil Rights era as a transformative conduit for social mobility. Dr. King’s relentless pursuit of freedom and equality is ever applicable in the United States today, where forces of discrimination and bigotry fester in conversations. The spirit of Dr. King—a catalyst for monumental change—beckons to a new generation, where we must uphold his legacy through shared tolerance and education for all citizens—from the youngest child to the oldest adult.

As a student board member for my school district, I represent over 20,000 students. From discussing district affairs with colleagues at board meetings to conducting site visits with the school board, educational equity is a focal aspect of my role. Part of my duties involves outreach to other students throughout the district, a task that spans two towns and nine secondary schools. Interacting with a variety of students from grades 6-12 provided me with profound insight into the stark inequities in our education system. Students of color face higher rates of suspension and chronic absenteeism. Discrimination remains a prevalent problem among students, who believe that administrators are not doing enough to address these transgressions.

Every month, secondary students across my district gather together to discuss methods to combat the inequities, intolerances, and injustices in our school district. In the darkness of intolerance, at odds with astounding prejudice in their schools and communities, these students found hope. I witnessed these students enter our meetings with beaming grins, ready to discuss ways to better their schools. I heard our passionate voices reverberate throughout the boardroom as we testified to the issues that we faced. Inequitable enforcement of dress codes, Euro-centric history curriculums, and discriminatory attitudes among students are some of the problems that these students recounted as barriers to educational equity.

The thing I find admirable about the students I work with is their persistence and dedication. These students come from different upbringings, lifestyles, and socioeconomic backgrounds, yet, they are all passionate about making their schools a more inclusive environment for themselves and their classmates. Their advocacy doesn’t require any extraordinary talents or eloquent roles, but only understanding and compassion for others.

Education empowers individuals to seek positive change in their communities. Even the biggest movements of the Civil Rights era started with smaller, cohesive groups dedicated to addressing equity issues within their communities. In his 1967 Christmas sermon, Dr. King remarks “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” We must love our neighbors as ourselves, looking out for their wellbeing, and developing a sense of compassion for them and others around us. With education, our different backgrounds will allow us to break barriers, uniting all of us through compassion, understanding, and the relentless pursuit of freedom and equality—just as Dr. King intended.


Lamar Holmes, 2nd Place, High School Division

The Ability to Blossom

“Don’t let anybody, anybody convince you this is the way the world is and therefore must be. It must be the way it ought to be” - Toni Morrison (1931-2019). How do we know the way the world ought to be? We live in a world with so much hate so is this the way it ought to be? Not really. This is not the world that Martin Luther King Jr. fully wished for his children to grow up in and this is certainly not the world that I would like my children to grow up in and the reason for this is because people do not understand each other. We do not see each other for who we truly are. Which is why, if I were to inspire equity in our country for all people, I would host a feast at a table that would encourage discussion and interaction, which is fundamental to the human experience.

So, why a meal? Well meals bring people together. Meals are essential to human existence since we have to eat, but they also come to bring us together. There is evidence from 300,000 years ago of meals being prepared in caves in Tel Aviv so it’s evidently a natural instinct to want to eat together. Meals have the power to forge relationships and bury anger so they are the perfect remedy to create equity but most importantly meals create a bond (Pope 2016). This is why we have holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, although these holidays both have deeper spiritual meanings they also are a reason for families to get together, celebrate and rekindle on what they have missed out on. So this would be a great reason to get all people together because essentially all humans are family.

A discussion is needed because humans have to talk to each other. We have speech so we can speak. There is a study that conducts three groups of people who were randomly assigned to engage with each other and then completed measures of well-being. Compared to other participants isolated in the control group, the ones engaging with each other experienced increased well-being (Hall et. al 2023). While engaging with other people we are also processing information about this person and checking if this is something that we want to continue. We are checking for a deeper connection with this person so we can have more interactions with them (Morgan 2023). Conversations build relationships and relationships build security and unity and for a democracy to work you need security and unity.

If I were to inspire equity in all of our people I would host a sit down feast because it would spark conversion that would wire our brains to form relationships and build connections while we are doing something that we are used to doing, eating!

Works Cited
Hall, Jeffrey A. et al. “Quality Conversation Can Increase Daily Well-Being.” Sage Journals,
2023, pp 1.
Morgan, Nick. “Why One Conversation A Day is Essential for Us Humans.” Psychology Today,
2023, pp 1-2.
Pope, Victoria. “The Communal Table.” National Geographic, 2016, pp. 1-4.


Jackson Urrutia-Andrews, 3rd Place High School Division

“Time is neutral,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from a cell in Birmingham, Alabama, “it can be used either destructively or constructively.” Since those words were penned, significant strides have been made in civil rights: African-Americans are more educated and have higher incomes and better health compared to the past. But beneath these advancements lies a stark reality: the promise of equity remains unfulfilled. 

Dr. King's assassination marked a turning point, but not a conclusion, in the struggle for equity. Progress has been made in the time since the height of the civil rights movement, but large disparities still exist for minorities and people of color. The poverty, homeownership, and incarceration rates for Black Americans have not improved since Dr. King’s time - they’ve worsened. African-Americans today have twice the unemployment rate and are six times as likely to go to jail as White Americans. This is not to mention the continued abuses by authorities against minority groups, especially from the police - the events of 2020 remind us of that. 

Dr. King adamantly argued that equity couldn't simply be "inspired" but must be continuously fought for. He wrote also: "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." 

The United States finds itself at a crossroads once again, grappling with societal divides: the young versus the old, right versus left, justice versus the status quo. Each problem is complicated, requiring its own array of solutions from all sectors. Individual efforts alone won't suffice; collective action is imperative to ensure liberty and justice for all. 

In the 1960s, Dr. King's movement anchored itself in direct action: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community… is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” The influence of this movement is apparent in the widespread protests following the murder of George Floyd. The impatience of these groups is seen in how often protests turned to riots. These events stand as reminders that the oppressed will not remain silent indefinitely. They illustrate the urgency for change and the potential consequences if systemic issues are left unaddressed. 

To achieve lasting change, we must not limit our approach solely to direct action. We must instead build momentum from the gains made by that movement. Empowering communities - all communities - through education, economic opportunities, and grassroots initiatives are equally pivotal. Transformative shifts can occur through comprehensive strategies that address systemic issues from various angles. 

Thus, to inspire equity, we must harness the power of democracy itself. That means that minorities must gain proportional representation in government. That means that forgotten communities must be lifted up to build new opportunities for themselves. That means that to inspire equity, we must bring together all of America.  I believe we can make it happen.


Middle School
Abhinav Deshpande, 1st Place Middle School Division

One cannot expect to cross a swiftly flowing river when only a single rock is placed as a stepping stone. Similarly, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s achievements during the 1960s Civil Rights era are insufficient to cross the rough waters of equity. Though he was the revolutionary who kindled change towards the segregation occurring between races in the United States, his actions are merely the foundation we must build upon to obtain equality. Despite his efforts, the United States is still at a crossroads in terms of equality with people of different races and genders having contrasting experiences in comparison to others.

If I were to inspire equity, I could follow Martin Luther King Jr.’s footsteps by organizing peaceful protests or writing and delivering speeches that address inequities in the nation. However, would that be adequate, or would it simply serve as a band-aid solution that would benefit the status quo but turn a blind eye toward inevitable long-term discrimination? For instance, although there were numerous protests following George Floyd’s inhumane death in 2020, multiple incidents involving discriminatory behavior have happened since. Racial prejudice is still subconsciously germinating within other residents of the United States.

Therefore, to properly heal the wound of inequity rather than precariously placing a band-aid on top, I would educate the youth about the inequities in the nation. Whether this be explaining to people at my middle school how opportunities are not provided equally or going to other schools to explain this concept. This action will serve as the basis for communicating that the matter of inequality is still relevant. Change cannot occur without understanding, and understanding cannot take place without learning. Hence, if the youth become knowledgeable about racial or gender discrimination in today’s society, they can grow up to solve this issue together. Ultimately, the children of today are the adults of the future.


Parami Jayakody, 2nd Place Middle School Division

In today’s society, the way someone is treated can be affected by something as simple as their race, ethnicity, gender, or the other traits they were born with, all before they are judged for their personality or skills. For many, it means that from childhood, they will automatically be at a low standpoint compared to others. Even if some receive assistance later on in life, it is still not enough to guarantee equality or equity to all. However, if there were initiatives and greater investments towards making sure all children can learn and grow as equal citizens, these circumstances could change. For example, programs targeted towards helping low-income and otherwise disadvantaged communities could help people across the nation, pushing towards a better future. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.”

When I was in sixth grade, I noticed that many of the younger students at my school were unable to get help and/or do their homework at home. Because of the lack of support at home, they were not able to learn or progress in class. I started to think about it, and I realized something had to be done. Since I was part of the student advisory committee, I was given permission to form a homework help and tutoring club with meetings held after school. The demand was high: I had so many students show up that I had to recruit other volunteers to help with tutoring. My effort was very successful, and I was incredibly happy to see it. I believe the large crowd was because the concept appealed to both the parents of children who needed help as well as students who wanted to learn and improve. I was able to help many students who needed it, and it helped me realize how one small movement can make a big difference for many people.

After the year ended, I understood that many of those students would not receive the help they still needed. Even though there are other free after-school programs and clubs, they rarely focus on education. However, when the opportunity was offered, many students were willing to try it. I realized how rare educational assistance outside of school is for some individuals, and programs to combat this could truly create more equity from a very young age. In my case, I had to sacrifice very little to give them this help, but they were able to benefit greatly from it. Because of my experience, I believe we need more organizations and volunteers who can assist children with their schoolwork, especially in disadvantaged communities. By doing this, we could help create a more equitable society and a better, brighter future for these children. Every child deserves a chance to grow, and this initiative could be a big step towards guaranteeing an equitable future for all.

Ashar Orakzai, 3rd Place Middle School Division

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was an inspirational leader who fought for the civil rights of African Americans. He fronted a revolutionary movement that eventually led to African Americans getting equal rights. His movement opened up doors for not only African Americans but also other ethnicities to be granted equal rights. Even though Dr. King's civil rights movement made a remarkable change, our society is still not perfect when it comes to equity. We still see inequity in abundance all around us, not only based on ethnicity but also gender, religion, and socioeconomic status. In some ways, as the country has gotten even more diverse over time, the issue of equity is even more relevant in the current era compared to the time of the civil rights movement.

I believe that if we are going to make a change in our society, equity should start at home. We should promote equity by treating not only our parents and older siblings with respect but also applying the same attitude to our younger siblings by taking care of them. This way you can be a role model for the neighborhood and thus inspire the next generation. You need to show them what is right and what is wrong. Other than this, you need to do things like helping others, especially those less fortunate. This can be done in ways such as volunteering at a food bank or collecting for certain charities. When the younger generation witnesses your goodwill, they will want to do the same and carry this on to others.

In addition to promoting equity at home, we students need to apply the concept of equity at school. Every single student deserves equal treatment at school irrespective of their race, religion, or gender. We can only accomplish this by educating and promoting a culture based on equity and and encouraging inclusivity and diversity at school. As students we need to make sure that our school clubs, societies, and sports teams are selected based upon skills and abilities rather than race, gender, or religion. This will make sure that each and every student gets an equal opportunity to advance based on their abilities. It is also important to raise our voice if we see any form of injustice at school. Bullying is common in schools and is also another form of inequity. It is important for all of us students to recognise this injustice and raise our voice against it collectively. By following these concepts, we will promote a culture where students can apply the same principles in their future life which will in turn promote a culture of equity in our society.

In conclusion, inspiring others and using our voices will create a significant change in our society and we need to keep it sustainable. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., struggled and worked hard for all the people of this country, now it is our obligation and duty as citizens of this country to carry on his legacy.

The 2024 MLK Essay Contest Question

The 2024 MLK Celebration Essay Topic

Given what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. achieved during the 1960s Civil Rights era, the United States today is at another crossroads; what would you do to inspire equity in our country for all people?
Cash Prize image

High School Division - Cash Prizes

1st Place - $500 | 2nd Place - $300 | 3rd Place - $200


Middle School Division - Cash Prizes

1st Place - $250 | 2nd Place - $150 | 3rd Place - $100


Thank you to our MLK Essay contest sponsors

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