Pupils write on leader's legacy

McDaniel College honors young essayists in contest to commemorate King

Carroll County

January 19, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

It's been nearly 36 years since his death, but the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is not lost on children like 11-year-old Amber Slater.

"The best thing to do with knowledge about Martin Luther King is pass it on. Honor him by following his example," Amber wrote in an essay.

"Always fight for what you believe in. He didn't say, `That looks too hard. Let someone else do it.' ... More people need to take a risk. We need to stand up and say, `That's not right, and I'm going to do something about it.'"

Tyler Shaffer, 10, focused on King's fight for civil rights.

"We should treat people equally, and we shouldn't fight among each other; pray daily for peace and help those who are less fortunate," Tyler wrote.

In her essay, fifth-grader Sierra Lindsey wrote, "We honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because he showed us the way to mend those broken fences and to move on in building this land rather than destroying it."

The three pupils' essays were chosen as winning entries among the 200 submitted by Carroll County students.

In an effort to include children in remembering the slain civil rights leader, McDaniel College's Office of Multicultural Services sponsored its first essay contest as part of its celebration this year.

"I was very impressed with the essays that were submitted," said Zephia Bryant, director of the college's Office of Multicultural Services. "It was interesting how the students were able to relate to Dr. King and his message."

"Dr. King had a message of nonviolence, and they talked about respecting their peers and being nice and kind to people not based upon the color of their skin," Bryant added.

"They talked about the need to give to the poor and to do community service."

Students were asked to write an essay based on the national theme of "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On ... Not a Day Off."

The contest was open to all students in elementary, middle and high schools in Carroll County.

A seven-person committee, made up of a Carroll County school administrator, two McDaniel faculty members and four college students, chose three winners and an honorable mention based on the content and the relevance to the theme, Bryant said.

The winners -- Amber, from Westminster East Middle School; Tyler, who attends Eldersburg Elementary School; and Sierra, from Freedom Elementary School -- learned Thursday that they were the winners.

"The secretary came into the classroom and said she had an announcement about Amber Slater," the sixth-grader said. "She said I won the Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest. Everyone clapped."

Amber, who will read her essay at tonight's King celebration at McDaniel College, said she already knew a little about King before she wrote her first draft.

After doing some research, however, Amber learned that "even though he was inspirational, he still attended a segregated school."

At Freedom Elementary School, fifth-grade teacher Pat Reed used the essay contest as a teaching tool.

"They were using vocabulary like segregation, and they understood what it meant," Reed said. "It brought an awareness, and I thought that was important. This year's Martin Luther King holiday will be a little different. They will remember this."

Plus, Reed said, it didn't hurt that the pupils were already excited and motivated by the thought of winning. All 26 of her pupils entered, including Sierra.

"I learned he put his life on the line every day for freedom and justice," Sierra said.

Honorable mention honors went to another of Reed's pupils, 11-year-old Andy Johns.

Andy, who shares King's birthday -- Jan. 15 -- said he couldn't believe he was recognized.

"I thought they were pulling a big prank on me because I'm normally not that good at writing," he said.

"Some parts of the world are still segregated and have slavery. If everyone bonds together for equal rights, we can end slavery and segregation everywhere in the world. That is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream," Andy wrote in his essay.

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