On Aug. 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed dreams of all men being created equal and not being judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
The civil rights activist’s words that day still are studied by students in schools across the country.
“I Have a Dream” is King’s most famous speech, but there are quotes from his other speeches that empower the nation to fight for freedom, dignity and equality.
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For the past eight years, the Indiana Association of School Principals has picked a different King quote for middle and high school students to interpret in an essay. They write their feelings on the quote, what it means to them and how the words can be used to honor King and the life he lived.
Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour has participated in the contest each year. Last year was the first time it had a student place in the top three in the state, as Ryan Brown placed second.
Ryan, now a seventh-grader, and other Immanuel middle school students are finalizing their essays for this year’s contest to submit for prizes ranging from $200 for third place to $500 for first place.
Ryan said he was surprised when he placed and earned a prize last year. He said he knew a little bit about King, and the contest was a good way to learn even more.
“It’s our history,” he said. “I learned about what he did to help everyone with freedom. He stood up for black rights. They were not classified as highly as all of the whites were, and he came along and gave them rights.”
Charles Smith, the social studies teacher at Immanuel who helps coordinate the contest, said it’s good that a different quote is chosen every year.
“I think it makes them dig a little bit deeper. It’s not something they’ve heard year after year,” Smith said. “They actually have to figure out when he said it, what was going on at that point and interpret that.”
Last year, students wrote about the King quote “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
In Ryan’s essay, he said the quote encourages him to keep moving forward, find a way around obstacles in life, never give up, always look for opportunities to grow and set goals and work hard to reach them.
“I think he was just authentic in his thoughts,” Smith said of Ryan’s essay. “I think (the judges) look for the personal relationship — how can you apply this, how can you make this personal, not just factual but how can you relate to it — and I think he did well with it.”
With this year’s contest, students are writing about the King quote “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”
Seventh-grader Elly Carter said she has found a way to interpret that quote.
“Some of the blacks gave up on trying to fight (for freedom) because they kept getting killed because they were fighting,” she said. “He made this speech because he wanted them to know that they should never give up and they should never lose hope.”
By participating in the essay contest last year and this year, Elly said she has learned a lot about King and his beliefs.
“When we grow up, we shouldn’t judge people on their color or anything, and he taught us that,” she said.
Smith encourages his students to do a little research on King before examining the quote.
“We look at Dr. King’s values and how does that apply to Christians today in America,” Smith said. “When I was proofreading several, they were talking about equal rights and treating people fairly, so I think they get a lot of that from their research, as well.”
The students began working on their essays about two weeks ago. They did most of their research and writing on their own time, but Smith also has allowed them to work on it in class a few times.
“It helps with their work ethic,” he said. “That’s why I have them work a lot on their own. I don’t stand over them and say, ‘You must do it right now.’ They can kind of space that out, and they can take ownership of that.”
Their rough draft is due this week, and the final copy will be turned in at the beginning of February.
Essays must not exceed 450 words, and each school may submit up to five essays.
Smith and language arts teacher Sandra Franke help proofread the essays and determine the five to submit.
Smith said he always likes seeing the different perspectives of the students.
“You can tell the different personalities,” he said. “If someone is in sports, they’ll apply it to sports. If someone is in music, it will be applied to music. Sometimes, it’s how they treat each other on the playground or just life in general. You can tell their personal interests in there, and that shows through.”
Along with lessons in social studies and language arts, the students learn how to use a computer and do research, Smith said.
That helps when they do essays for other contests throughout the school year.
“We do any essay contest that comes around for extra research and stuff that may not be in the textbook,” Smith said. “It’s a little extra information that they can learn on their own.”
Last year as a sixth-grader, Immanuel Lutheran School student Ryan Brown placed second in the state in the Martin Luther King Jr. Essay Contest, sponsored by the Indiana Association of School Principals.
Students wrote about the quote “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Here is Ryan’s essay:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader of the civil rights movement. He fought for freedom and equality for all people at a time when blacks were treated differently because of the color of their skin. It was courageous for Dr. King to stand up and fight segregation during a time when it was dangerous for blacks to publicly speak out against it. He was passionate about changing the world for the better for his children and grandchildren. It was unfortunate that he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, and never got to see his impact on our country.
When I reflect on the quote from Dr. King, it makes me feel determined to keep moving forward toward my goals despite obstacles that might come up. It creates a powerful image of discovering ways to overcome the roadblocks of life. It is powerful because it reminds me to never give up when I am faced with challenges. Instead of giving up, I should find opportunities to go a new direction. It is encouraging because it helps me look past obstacles in my life and stay focused on my goals. Finally, it is empowering because one person can make a difference in our world.
This quote means that no matter what, I need to keep moving forward. I need to find a way around the obstacles in my life. I should never give up, instead, always look for opportunities to grow. I need to set goals and work hard toward reaching my goals. Dr. King set the goal of working hard to make sure everyone has equal rights. He did not let obstacles get in his way. He kept pushing forward to reach the goal of equal rights for everyone.
I can honor Dr. King by treating everyone equally and with respect. I will stand up against bullying because it is disrespectful. I can honor Dr. King by showing kindness and compassion to those around me. Dr. King has inspired me to never give up on my goals despite the challenges I may face. In conclusion, Dr. King had a great impact on the civil rights movement. “Martin Luther King Jr.’s life had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States. Years after his death, he is the most widely known African-American leader of his era” (“Bio”). I could honor Dr. King by showing kindness and compassion to all people. To me, the quote means that we should keep moving forward toward our goals despite the obstacles we may face.