Two years ago Devin Harris, a fifth-grader at Harford Heights Elementary School, watched his father get shot and bleed to death in the street outside his home.
But he holds on to a dream.
Todd Sykes, another Harford Heights fifth-grader, sees people high on drugs all the time and watches drug dealers escape from police by running into their friends' houses.
But he holds on to a dream.
And April Lund, a fifth-grader at Cecil Elementary School, says that whenever she walks into a store in her East Baltimore neighborhood, the manager follows her around to make sure she doesn't steal anything.
But she holds on to a dream.
Their dream is one of hope, pride and equality, and it was inspired by someone they call a "superstar" -- the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Yesterday in the auditorium at Harford Heights, they and severalother fifth-graders were recognized for their commitment to that dream, expressed through posters and essays that they had written for Dr. King's birthday, which is Jan. 15.
"My grandmother heard him speak in Washington," said Todd, an 11-year-old who lives in East Baltimore. "She said thousands of people were there, and they were all screaming for Dr. King.
"People like him only come around once in a lifetime."
Todd, who had been recognized for his poster titled "The Dream Will Never Die," says it's up to him and other children to carry Dr. King's dream with them each day no matter what hardships they face.
"I know it might be easy to make money by selling drugs," said the youngster, who hopes to go to college and become a lawyer or a doctor. "But every day, drug dealers put their lives on the line -- either they get shot by police or they get shot by other people trying to steal their drugs -- and I want to live."
Devin nodded in agreement. He won second place in the eighth annual poster contest, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Health Plan, for his illustration titled "You Can Jail My Body But Not My Mind."
The soft-spoken boy, who turns 11 next week, said, "I remember my teacher told me that even when Dr. King was put in jail, they couldn't stop him. Blacks still followed what he taught them and fought for freedom."
Devin added, "Even when things are tough, I know I have to do right because I'm the oldest and I have to take care of my mother, my sister and my baby brother." He said his father's killer has never been arrested.
That courage was expressed by winners in the essay contest as well.
Third-place winner Mulina Muldrow, who hopes to become a novelist like Alice Walker, wrote: "Dr. King's speech says blacks should be in the struggle until they are free. The fight is not only for freedom, but to win pride. It is to win the right for blacks, whites, Catholics or others to be close friends or lovers."
After the ceremony, Mulina, who is in fifth grade at Abbottson, explained, "When you're discriminated against because of your race, you feel left out -- like you're the lowest -- but Dr. King wanted us to lift ourselves up and be proud of who we are, no matter what color we are."
The program, attended by about 100 students from East Baltimore elementary schools, was coordinated by the Johns Hopkins Health Plan to celebrate Dr. King's birthday. Dozens of posters and essays were entered in the contest, and winners received savings bonds, gift certificates and Walkman-type radios.
Top honors in the poster contest went to Avon Streeter for his poster, "Fight for the Dream -- We Shall Overcome," which depicts Dr. King, holding his fist in the air as he addressed a cheering crowd.