Remembering King, believing in children

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January 21, 2001|By NORRIS WEST

TAKE HEART. Children are our future, and the future is bright.

That's the comfort I took after listening to three talented Anne Arundel County young people read their prize-winning essays at the annual Anne Arundel Community College Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast.

Carl O. Snowden, special assistant to County Executive Janet S. Owens, emphasized at the breakfast that young people born after King's assassination must realize his importance and that of the civil rights movement.

Children must know the country's history so they can continue to make this a more perfect union.

Last month, I stopped by the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where King was assassinated in 1968. (It's a civil rights museum now.) The nation has made strides since that fateful April day.

The young essayists give us hope that America can become even better -- because of them.

Here are the winning submissions for the essay contest, sponsored by the Annapolis chapter of The Links Inc., a national African-American women's service organization.

As you read them, you'll understand why I'm feeling so good about young people.

The winning elementary school entry was by Mikaela Bows, a fifth-grade student at Brockbridge Elementary School. Mikaela's teacher is Angie Como:

"If I were to talk to Martin Luther King Jr., it would be wonderful: I would be able to tell him how I feel about all the extraordinary things he did to help the world. He showed how all people should be treated equally.

"If Martin Luther King Jr. were here, first I would ask him, `How did you have the courage to take action and complain that blacks deserve their rights to be treated fairly?' I would also ask, `If nobody listened, what would you have done?'

"Our country now provides people with great opportunities because of your work. I think you were very brave and that you should be honored forever."

The winning middle school entry was written by Christy Gretsinger, 12, a seventh-grader at George Fox Middle School. Christy's teacher is Bonnie Schupp. Her passionate recitation went straight to my soul:

"As you look around today you see people of different races, cultures and religions. Of course, this is not an uncommon sight. But many years ago it was very disturbing to some people to see this. Being a member of today's society and knowing that I will help decide the future, I will apply the beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in my everyday life.

"First, I would let it be known that I will not tolerate the abuse of anyone because of race, culture or religion. I would explain the views of Dr. King Jr. freely so that others could become aware of what he stood for. People need to know that he not only stood for freedom of African-Americans but for all people to be treated equally.

"Also I would make sure that little children everywhere are aware of Dr. King. It is important for children to learn of him at an early age so that they, too, can teach others to be respectful of him. If we apply the beliefs early in life we can assure that children will not be prejudiced in the future.

"All in all, the beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are just as important today as they were 27 years ago. I believe equality for all is the message that this great man wanted to pass on. We must use these wise teachings today to prevent the awful mistakes of the past."

The high school winner was Ashleigh Nichole Davenport, a ninth-grader at Glen Burnie High School. Ashleigh's English teacher is Joshua Carroll. She brought poise and grace to the stage:

"If I had the honor of speaking to or having a conversation with Dr. King, I would first say thank you.

"Thank you, Dr. King, for being a civil rights pioneer, and for paving the way for children of color. It is because of you, children of all colors everywhere can share the same classrooms, books, teachers and equal opportunities.

"Dr. King, you have shown us that one man can make a difference. You, one single man, have made such a great impact upon our society that history was written to add your name. You have inspired many people to change their racist views and ... to do wonderful things. Dr. King, you have bridged the gap. You spoke out against racism when others kept quiet. You were that great voice who had a great dream that all people would be judged by the content of their character rather than their skin color, and for that I thank you.

"Most of all, Dr. King, I want to thank you for your dedication and perseverance for freedom. You gave your life for our freedom. For that, I thank you. I promise you that every day I live, I will try to make your dream a reality."

Mikaela, Christy and Ashleigh -- and the essay contest's second- and third-place winners -- bring us a timely reminder that the future is in good hands.

Norris P. West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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