Young as she is, fifth-grader Nicole Wallace knows the bitter chill of racial prejudice.
"I was in another school one time," recalled the Abbottston Elementary School student, one of six winning essayists in a recent contest honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
There were only "about four or five colored people there -- and a lot of people looking at you saying, 'You shouldn't be in that school'," said Nicole, wincing at the memory.
She held her tongue, hurt though she was.
But the 10-year-old Baltimore girl holds fast to King's vision of a nation freed from the shackles of bigotry.
"What they should do is stop judging people by their color, and start judging on the basis of how they act and what they do," said Nicole. "We're all the same color, once you turn off the lights."
Nicole was one of 12 Baltimore fifth-graders who received awards yesterday in the eighth annual "I Have A Dream" essay and poster contests, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Health Plan.
Students were asked to write essays and craft posters inspired by King's landmark 1963 speech to civil rights marchers in Washington.
Zadra Griffin, a student at Armistead Elementary School, won honorable mention for her "All men are created equal" poster.
This year, students at the 11 participating elementary schools submitted about 70 essays and 50 posters for the contest.
And more than 500 students, parents and teachers packed the auditorium at Harford Heights Elementary School yesterday to view the posters and hear several winners read their essays.
Prizes ranged from $100 savings bonds for the first-place winners to $25 gift certificates for those who received honorable mention.
The contest started as a way of forging links between Hopkins and the communities that surround its health institutions, said Barbara B. Hill, president of the Johns Hopkins Health Plan. It grew to the point where last year the sponsors decided to hold the awards assembly at Harford Heights, which is large enough to accommodate the event.
And yesterday, Hill signed an agreement formally linking Harford Heights with the health plan as part of the mayor's Business and School Partnership program.
"It's just been a wonderful program," said Hill.
The contest entries, meanwhile, show that King's words resonate a generation after they first galvanized the civil rights movement.
King's speech "meant that everyone should have equal rights . . . equal payment and equal jobs," said April Lund of Cecil Elementary School, second-place winner in the contest.
"He was a great man," said Desmond Jones, of Cecil Elementary School, who won first prize in the essay contest. "If I could, I would like to have equal rights for everyone."
But the students also recognize that the struggle is far from over.
Zadra Griffin urges white students to imagine how they would feel if they were the target of bigoted remarks.
"Sometimes they do," she said. "But sometimes people can be very stubborn."