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2013-14 MLK Essay/Poetry Contest Winners

1st Place Middle School
Sara Casey
8th Grade • Poplar Grove Middle School

“The Nashville Rescue Mission”

He had a dream, a dream, a dream.

That we could all be equal.

We are all the same.

From the side of the road, a mission, a home.

Young to old.

Old to young.

From battle cries to sad sighs.

Beds to benches for a night.

Houses to boxes underneath the sky.

Some gave something and received almost nothing.

Others too young to know.

Friends and family gone.

Strangers with a ride.

Trying to get to a place.

A place of care.

Strangers from everywhere come.

Joined by caring people.

Kind people.

Respectful people.

People willing to help.

Together for a special day.

A day of thanks and people willing to give.


Joined together by the Nashville Rescue Mission.

Helping to feed people in need.

Citizens helping and working to fulfill something important.

A Dream.

2nd Place Middle School
Anna Lummus
8th Grade • Overbrook School

Overcoming Injustice

Injustice can be found in many places; the streets, schools, and even at home. Discriminating against people who are considered to be “dangerous” because of their race, “ugly” because of their clothing, and “dirty” because of their homelessness can end with one courageous act of justice. Why is it, that putting people down and below us, is something that occurs every day? Life can be perceived as a competition, which evolves into discrimination; the injustice of prejudicing and sorting people into certain categories that ignores, or even lessens, who they actually are.

Martin Luther King wanted this to end. He once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  I have the potential to end injustice. We all do. Simple ways to start can be inviting someone to sit with you, volunteering to help the underprivileged, or even just giving someone a smile. Rather than looking upon life as a competition, look at it as an opportunity to change something that needs changing, no matter how big or small it may be. Potential is something everybody possesses.

When I was in the sixth grade, I volunteered to sort food that would be sent to the underprivileged. The experience was eye-opening. I had never known that so many people went through the day with nothing to eat. Did you know that there are over fifty million Americans that do not have access to enough food? I did not, but I realized that I, as a sixth grader, had the ability change that. All it takes is an act of kindness that can feed a person or even a family, and that is ending injustice.

Ending injustice may seem like something hard to do, but actually, it is one of the easiest and greatest forms of love and kindness. Martin Luther King wanted us all to contribute to the fight to end injustice among others, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” The easiest way to start is within you. Look for the best in everybody, and seek to do justice.

1st Place High School
Jordan Wayburn • 11th Grade
MLK Magnet School


I could sit here at my computer and write the most heart-felt and gut-wrenching essay about stereotyping and its harmful effects on society: the conceded and arrogant politician that attempts to control marriage by giving it requirements based on one’s gender and not love, or the strictly conservative, racist old-fool that lives down the street and still doesn’t understand inter-racial marriage. I’m not going to. It is uninteresting and boring; Vanderbilt will read hundreds of them and I cannot convince myself that mine would stand out.

More importantly, it would not accomplish anything. This simple essay that I write to a college that actively asks for it and is almost guaranteed to be heard by only those successful enough to be able to ignore these realties and or already agree with the fact that we need to change as a society, will not amount to anything. It wouldn’t light the world on fire and start a second civil rights movement that I could spearhead to solve all of humanity’s problems. Vanderbilt has been doing this contest for years yet I only heard about it when my English teacher said “extra credit.” While all of the past winner’s speeches, essays, and poems may have portrayed the suffering human condition so eloquently, they didn’t change the world we live in.

Instead of sitting here like other students contemplating whether or not use “racism” in place of “injustice” to describe the faulty status quo we live in, or however others have responded to the prompt, I should be out rallying true support, gathering people that don’t already agree with my opinion to make a difference. I do not need to convince some committee locked away in a library at one of the best colleges in America that the racist redneck country we live in needs to do away with the rampant anti-gay culture; that we need to stop instantly judging that man we see living on the street as a no-good alcoholic that would spend any money people give him on beer or drugs; that we should not assume that pregnant teenage is some filthy whore of a girl with no hope of a successful future; that the fat woman living around the corner that depends on her monthly welfare check just for food is a rotten piece of meat that is parasitically and solely responsible for all of this countries failures. I do not need to tell Vanderbilt these truths because that sealed off committee already knows that love should be the only requirement for a marriage license; that the homeless man on the corner is just as easily a failed entrepreneur with a great idea that didn’t pan out; that the pregnant girl could have been raped on a corner but she has a great family that loves and supports her and that unborn child; or that the woman down the block has struggled with diabetes her entire life and its kept her from getting a stable job. I do not need to write these facts in an essay for the Vanderbilt people or the people that would hear it because they already know it.

What we as a society need to do is stop yelling down from our thrones that the less fortunate need help, and actually get down in the mud and help them. This essay needs to be read to the redneck republican consistently voting against gay marriage, or to the local bully kicking the homeless entrepreneur. The kids that mock the pregnant teen or fat woman need to hear these truths while we stand up for those less fortunate and actively do anything to actually help them.

The worst part is that even this essay that I feel was written so well, will accomplish nothing just as the ones before it, unless we actually do something. To prevent this paper from being just like the others instead of thinking “Hmmmm, what a thoughtful point in such a well written essay,” about something that Vanderbilt and its audience already agrees with, we could stand up for gay marriage. We could stop the stereotyping of those less fortunate than us. This world needs justice, not more pretty words.

2nd Place High School
Akhila Ashokan • 11th Grade
MLK Magnet School

Timeless Injustice

Since the beginning of our nation, we have symbolized the rise of freedom and equality through our actions and beliefs. When the first pilgrims arrived in Plymouth before the founding of this nation, they were fleeing from the political and religious injustice that occurred back in Europe. When we decided to revolt against the British government in 1776, we were escaping the unjust bindings and restrictions which the British placed on us despite our desire for autonomy. And over fifty years ago, when Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists started the movement to end racial segregation, we were beginning to tear apart a morally unjust system that crippled the nation. Today, as we witnessed the passing of the benevolent and righteous leader Nelson Mandela, I can’t help but look back and notice how greatly we have progressed as a nation and as the people of the world. We have made enormous strides to overcome prevalent racial and social injustices as a nation and a society.

Although a perfect egalitarian society may be in the distant future, a certain level of equality should be expected. Education, for example, should be accessible to all, including those who may not be able afford it. However, a plain fact of reality is that not everyone has equal access to education. In fact, the price of higher education in the United States has risen excessively. Thus, many outstanding students are unable to receive the education they rightfully deserve. In addition to financial obstacles, students are unable to access education because of social restrictions. Before the civil rights movement, young African American girls and boys were banned from schools which white people attended. Recently, across the world in Pakistan young girls like Malala Yousafzai are prohibited from going to school simply because they are girls. The issue of discrimination is timeless. Moreover, education is basic right which even the United Nations considers significant enough to be a Millennium Development Goal.

Justice does, of course, go beyond just education. On a simpler level, people discriminate against others in workplaces and schools. Stereotypes are common among teenagers, too. These negative feelings create feeling of inferiority which reflects upon the individuals subject to discrimination. As a person becomes accustomed to viewing the world through the tinted lens of race or gender, he or she fails to understand the value of a person as individual. This is perhaps the most widespread problem with social injustices. Without a clear image of the worth of a person, we neglect the truth and miss out on many opportunities.

In my personal life, I have come to encounters such instances. As a family of immigrants with little knowledge to the American life, my family tried to enter me into elementary school in America. I had been in the United States for almost a year, and spoke English fluently. However, when we went to ask whether l could be put in second grade as I was supposed to be, the administration refused and put me in the first grade. Unfortunately, they believed I could not withstand the tough American curriculum since I was educated in another country. I later proved them wrong.

Social equality and justice is an issue that we have all encountered in our lives whether it was because we have been on the receiving end of it or because we ourselves have inflicted it. Justice and equality remain a difficult issue to tackle. Over the years we have, however, made progress.