Students embody King legacy

Crusaders: Three girls describe how they live the philosophy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in their everyday lives.

January 17, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

It is 1965. City streets are flooded from fire hose spray. Nightsticks swing. Men are spat upon. Women are crying. The world, it seems, is divided into black and white.

A leader emerges to calm the violence, bridge the angry divide. His life is an example. His words and actions an inspiration. His name is the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Those images are a far cry from 2000 in Howard County -- a neatly green place with quiet cul-de-sacs and a philosophy of fairness, tolerance and diversity.

But King's famous dream is long-reaching, spanning generations and eras to find its way into the lives of Howard County high school students, who have the luxury of never experiencing the atrocities that fueled King's mission of peace.

Each year, the county recognizes those students who seem to have been touched by King, a man they never knew. By charitable word or deed, they inspire others.

This year, three students -- because of their examples and a two-page essay -- have earned a "Living the Dream" award from the Howard County Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission, earning them a $500 savings bond and public recognition.

"They can see where his dream and what he stood for spilled over into many aspects of our society, even today," said Mabel Canada, this year's commission chairwoman. "And I think their essays reflected that."

King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, his most famous plea for racial and social harmony, in Washington, D.C., in 1963.

None of the three has ever participated in a sit-in or been forced to the back of a public bus.

But the commission has determined that each girl is a living example of Martin Luther King's dream -- even in suburban Howard County.

"In memory of his legacy, I have committed myself to maintaining faith and not giving up on his struggle. I have committed myself to not only making good grades in school, but to being in the top percentile of my class. As a young African-American female, it is imperative that I receive a strong education if I am to make an impact on the democratic process and achieve social liberation." -- Excerpt of essay by Ashley Harrington, 16, junior, Mount Hebron High School

To Harrington, one doesn't have to march on Washington to live King's dream. Harrington believes she lives it by cracking open her many schoolbooks every day.

"I think I do it by trying to excel academically, also by promoting nonviolence and giving back to the community," said Harrington, who holds a 4.0 grade point average.

She promotes nonviolence simply.

"You just don't take part in it," she said. "You also teach people around you that they don't have to take part in it.

Like my little [9-year-old] sister, I try to instill in her that just because someone gave you a lick, you don't have to give a lick back."

Harrington said that even though she thinks Howard County is fairly tolerant racially, socioeconomic issues sometimes are raised at Mount Hebron High School, with students from different income levels.

"And not everyone's going to deal with that the same way," she said. "Through that there's going to be conflict. The best way to deal with it is to understand diversity."

Acknowledging that she is one of the more privileged students at school, Harrington said she strives to get along with all students, no matter their skin color or background.

"You have to take yourself out of your shoes and into their shoes. You can probably solve a lot of conflicts that way," she said.

Between being a peacemaker and studying, Harrington finds time to tutor a first-grader once a week and hold executive positions in associations and clubs, including being Howard County delegate to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's 2000 Youth Commission.

"Dr. King's dream is still relevant," Harrington said. "It's not completed because there still is racism and prejudiced people. But you have to think of it this way: If he hadn't lived his life to promote equality and nonviolence, we wouldn't have the things that we have now."

"As a Chinese-American teen- ager, I have seen and encountered many prejudiced attitudes from my peers. Ignorance and racial slurs have stirred anger and disgust inside me. Often I have the urge to counterattack the people that make these remarks. However, Dr. King's message of racial equality and peace helps me realize that it is useless to act in anger. Instead, I can channel my anger into positive actions." -- Excerpt of essay by Frances Liu, 16, junior, Wilde Lake High School

Liu had never considered what King's life meant to her until her U.S. history teacher suggested she write an essay about his famous dream.

While writing, Liu thought about the freedoms and liberties she takes for granted every day.

"So when I thought about it, I realized he really had impacted my life," Liu said. "He really pushed for the civil rights movement and equality among all people and because he did that, those are things I can live out today."

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