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10th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Sacramento Regional Essay Contest | Sponsored by ABC10

The MLK Essay Contest Is Sponsored By:

2023 MLK Celebration Sacramento Essay Contest winners.

Congratulations to the 2023 MLK Essay Contest Winners.

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 10th 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.

High School

1st Place - Shohini Chakraborty, Folsom High School (Folsom Cordova Unified School District)
2nd Place - Devansh Katiyar, Vista Del Lago High School (Folsom Cordova Unified School District)
3rd Place - Jackson Urrutia-Andrews, Vista Del Lago High School (Folsom Cordova Unified School District)

Middle School
1st Place - Gyubin Noh, Folsom Middle School (Folsom Cordova Unified School District)
2nd Place -  Zoe Loyola, Sutter Middle School (Folsom Cordova Unified School District)
3rd Place -  Soina Kaur, Folsom Cordova Unified School District (Folsom Cordova Unified School District)


High School Division
Shohini Chakraborty, 1st Place High School Division

We live in a world where ignorance drives many people. Acts of insensitivity towards certain people and the inability to accept them can be seen and heard everywhere. But is hate the force to be driven by? Or is there a more substantial power? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mentions in a brilliant quote, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." This quote perfectly explains what the world can do to bring Dr. King's remarkable dream to reality.

About five years ago, at the mere age of ten, I received the opportunity to work with differently-abled children in a local organization. I had many preconceived notions swirling around my brain as my mom drove me to a quaint house. I was pretty nervous. My mom was with me as I anxiously walked in. I saw numerous Lego sets and other toys on the floor. I was tempted but was too shy to do something in an unfamiliar place without permission. A girl my age who couldn't communicate clearly came up to me and pulled my arm. My guards immediately went up as someone I had never met led me to a corner with some toys. She forcefully yet gently sat me down, sat next to me, and started grabbing toys off the floor. My shy defenses kicked in as I began to overanalyze the situation. The girl, noticing my uncomfortable state but unable to fully empathize, swiftly placed a giant Lego block on my lap. At that moment, my preconceived notions and the built-up tension I had unnecessarily brought into the scene melted away, and a huge grin appeared on my ten-year-old face. I felt a beam of warmth come from that girl in that second. What was I thinking? These kids enjoy the same things I do. Since then, I began meeting the group of kids once every week. They all became a massive part of my life.

A few months later, I also started teaching them music. In these last few years, the kids have performed at many events and were deeply admired for their perseverance. They are pursuing music to the best of their ability to this day. Insignificant events that people take for granted are sometimes giant milestones for others. I am thankful I could help the kids achieve some of those milestones and bring neurodiverse awareness to the community.

These experiences over time have taught me so much. I learned that through my smile, gestures, love, and kindness, I can overcome hatred and learn to see the good in people. I can find the beauty of every individual and overcome every situation of prejudice, big or small. I can contribute to making my community a brighter place, and slowly my tiny little light will travel all over the world along with other little lights to overcome the darkness bit by bit. "Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

Devansh Katiyar, 2nd Place, High School Division

The Road Ahead is Not Smooth 

“Did you hear what happened at the football game?” a friend asked me one Monday morning in October. Was it a crazy and improbable comeback by the home team in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter? Or was it a fantastical blowout win by halftime? In reality, what had happened were racist slurs written all over the whiteboards in the visiting team’s locker room. 

Many students that I interact with at Vista claim that racism simply does not exist on campus; they believe they live in a post-racial America where race neither has any impact on how others are perceived nor how they interact with each other. They point to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as the culmination of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Yet it is evident through incidents like those that happened at my own high school and those that continue to happen not only in other high schools but also at all sorts of institutions around the nation that racism is a weed whose roots, when unchecked, burrow into many facets of life, from the places we build our homes to the police who patrol our streets. Racism is a parasite that festers under the darkest corners of the stones we leave unturned. 

Thus, the Civil Rights movement can never be over. We must continue to march and picket in the streets, debate at both the dinner table and the city council podium, and chant for change from the galleries of the chambers of the state and federal legislatures. As Dr. Martin Luther King proclaimed at the state capitol of Alabama in Montgomery during his “Our God is Marching On!” speech to over 25,000 marchers, the fight to end racism is “in our hands. And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.” Now isthe time for a new generation of freedom fighters to rise to face the racism still present today with the same nonviolent technique that Dr. King preached nearly 6 decades prior. However, just as he advised on those marble steps of the Alabama legislature, our most important virtue to attaining the fruits of our labors is persistence. Persist in face of ridicule, persist in face of heckling, persist in face of retaliation. Yes, the struggle will be difficult, but we shall not veer from its unpaved and uncertain path, filled with loose, shifting gravel. Yes, its path may seem aimless, however, our destination will remain the same: equality for all under the law, no matter the color proudly displayed on one’s skin. Let this principle be the guiding light to forge the “more perfect union” enshrined in our Constitution and that Dr. King sacrificed his life for.

Jackson Urrutia-Andrews, 3rd Place High School Division

Four hundred and three years ago, somewhere between twenty and thirty humans, shackled in chains and treated like property, were brought from Africa and sold in Virginia. Theirs is the first story of the racial inequality that challenges America to this day. Their story, so seemingly obscure, didn’t even give an exact count of the human chattel that began one of the most horrid legacies of our country. Their story is the first chapter of a larger story, a story that will forever define us and shape us, a story that pivoted forever around the singular figure Dr. Martin Luther King. He understood the power of stories, and his own story is a demand for people today to write new ones, penning words that inspire others to commit to justice and inclusivity, using their unmatched ability to connect people across time. 

In a landmark book by the man himself, Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. King tells just one of his stories, the story of 1963, pushing for the power they hold over us to do good: “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” By taking the power of stories, Dr. King wrote some of the most powerful speeches of all time. With the power of stories, he was able to cast America in a new light. 

He acknowledged the ability of stories himself more than once throughout his life, in essays and memoirs. “...there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” And from this creativity came a model for activists today. Not just activists, but people

Stories are so powerful because anyone can write them. Protests and random acts of kindness are both recorded by journalists. Moving fiction and persuasive essays reach more ears than spoken words and a microphone ever could. By telling stories, we capture a piece of life, and redefine it, creating something from nothing. They are the oldest mode of communication. They preserve themselves across time. Most importantly, their messages can forever change the perception of other people, other humans. The Gettysburg Address, the most famous speech of American history, changed how we view our Union. Not as a mere country, but an experiment in freedom, founded “four score and seven years ago.” 

So when we are asked what we can do to preserve the values set forth by Lincoln, King, and countless others, I say that whatever we do should be a story. Dr. King once declared, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” Stories bridge the gaps between people with resounding potential. And by writing better stories today, the future can judge us by the content of our characters.


Middle School
Gyubin Noh, 1st Place Middle School Division

Dr. King gave over 2,500 speeches in his lifetime. In the same duration of time others debated to say one word, Dr. King chose to say a million words. These million robust words built with courage and heart combined to create quotes that millions would look up to decades later. 

There is one specific quote that caught my eye; one that I discerned as resonating to today’s society. “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” March 8th, 1965, these forty words were uttered out of Dr. King’s mouth during a sermon in Alabama. These are the exact reasons why Dr. King’s words stay alive– it is because he stood up for what is right, for justice, and for what is true. Many Americans in today’s society mistake racism as a monster defeated when televisions were black and white. But here is the truth they ignore; a serious omission: 

Racism is alive and breathing, not as a physical obstacle, but as an underlying mental bias. Dr. King did not end racism; he was solely a notable soldier in this never-ending battle. It will never disappear and it is prone to happening anywhere. As a Korean-American living in a predominant white, suburban city, I am not given the choice to ignore the problem. I hear 

racial slurs being passed around in my own school, directed to Asians. I hear about the active racial discriminations occurring in my local high school to people like me, of color, that are constantly overlooked. Why must I go through one of the most prominent times of my life with an underlying anxiety of being a victim of a hate-crime because of my color; why must anyone? 

In times like the pandemic, with the surplus of unwarranted AAPI hate, it was difficult to remember that diversity in America is not a set-back. It is a blessing. Therefore, our best line of defense is to continue fighting. America, as a whole, must join hands together and work to continue Dr. King’s vision. I like to write from my heart, just as Dr. King liked to

speak from his, thus, I won’t claim any fabricated promises I cannot keep up to. I choose to support Dr. King’s vision by educating myself in the inequalities around the world today in order to spread the news and speak up against it. I choose to inspire others to do the same by writing this essay. I will continue to type a million words. 

To honor Dr. King, we must keep his words alive. We must continue the dream he had. We cannot dream for an equitable society without walking up to the microphone ourselves. We must choose to say a million more words.

Zoe Loyola, 2nd Place Middle School Division

Martin Luther King Jr. once announced, "If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; this means we must develop a world perspective." For centuries, the controversial act of racial discrimination was the sole thing preventing possible evolution and development. However, as the revolutionary man himself declared, dreams of tranquility can be established with the cooperation of all peoples; this is seen with the actions of Martin Luther King Sr.’s and Jr.’s campaignings. 

Advocating Dr. King’s enduring mission can be accomplished with peaceful activism, therefore inspiring others. His father, Martin Luther King Sr., was a campaigner who epitomized standing up to segregation without the need for violence. He was widely known for his acts of peaceful protest, such as riding the ‘whites only’ elevators and joining organizations like the NAACP. Moreover, King Sr. included connections of Jesus’ preachings and black confrontational difficulties. His deeds hugely impacted Martin Luther King Jr., liberating him to continue in his dad’s steps and take part in protesting. Insisting upon secluding topics participates in Martin Luther King Jr.’s goals because advertising the situation of discrimination will encourage others to join the cause. As proposed, King Jr. changed the world due to his outstanding model of a parent. From his determined deeds, Martin Luther King Sr. paved the way for his son to overcome societal racism. Like how he stood up and affected the community, equality can be achieved by nonviolently expressing the need for equitability. 

To contribute to Martin Luther King Jr.’s lifelong objective, benevolence must be universal. As Dr. King said in his March for Integrated Schools, “Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” With this philosophy, he continued on to change the world as we know it today. King Jr.’s courageous quest of justice for all spread recognition to the world. He connected thousands of people, not just African Americans, together to put an end to prejudice. Thanks to his persistence for nondiscrimination, groups that originally struggled with racism now have more rights and freedom than ever before. This supports how kindness can greatly aid in the mission of impartiality because with his goodwill, he brought others together to collectively fight for a cause. Dr. King’s tenderheartedness to his audiences persuaded them to take part in the objective and cooperated with all. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. collected an activistic society using compassion and charity, anyone can inspire a more equitable mankind with benignity. 

Overall, taking stands in Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for equivalence is accomplished with collaboration. This needed cooperation is achieved through harmonious protesting or compassion towards everyone; such actions will attract public attention, raising awareness towards the cause and repossessing freedom.

Soina Kaur, 3rd Place Middle School Division

A man with a dream once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate can not drive out hate, only love can do that.” That man is known as Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. 

Dr. King lived in a world where there were rooted barriers and discord, yet envisioned one where everybody was equal and lived in harmony. He took the trek of creating that world that he saw and wanted to spread his light and love to everybody. 

From the beginning, I admired Dr. King’s work, but never thought I was one who could make a difference. However, a small story from one of my teachers changed that for me. She narrated about a white man who lived in a society that was still segregated and each culture kept to themselves. To him, that was just the way things were. He owned a store, and one day a black man came in and asked him to cash in his paycheck at the bank because they were unwilling to. They gave him no reason, but simply refused. Incredulous, the man walked into the bank that he himself used to run his business and told them to cash the check, for he understood the value of hard work. Immediately the bank cashed the check and the black man walked away with his money, but the other man took all his business away from that bank. He was appalled at their ignorance, however did nothing to change his own. One night, the man was at a get together and began to chat with a black man who was frustrated about his children and his decisions. The white man had the same difficulties and was thankful for another parent that could relate. That was the moment that he realized that everybody around him lived different lives with different backgrounds, but they all had one thing in common: they were human. It was a simple understanding that allowed him to finally realize his ignorance. 

This tale of belief going through metamorphosis shows that prejudice stems from ignorance. However, ignorance can be defeated through understanding, empathy, and most of all,

love. To release adamant paradigms, we must learn and grow. In order to learn and grow, all it takes is a question to somebody. One question can lead to a conversation. That conversation can lead to a bond - the bond of humanity. And that is what Dr. King pictured. A community of people who recognize each other, and simply, love. 

Every one of us has their ups and downs, but that does not change that everybody is human with their own set of hardships. Everyone faces darkness that feels cold and like they are caged in a fathomless tunnel without an opening. Some are able to rise above it, but for those that do not, it is our job to give them that spark that will unleash the light for them. Hate is the darkness and we are the spark.

The 2023 MLK Essay Contest Question

The 2023 MLK Celebration Essay Topic

Incorporating a quote from Dr. King, describe in writing how you can get involved, take a stand, support Dr. King’s mission and vision for equality, and inspire a more equitable, inclusive, and peaceful society.

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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