Students' essays share how Martin Luther King Jr. inspires today

In this April 2, 1965 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., second from right, speaks at a news conference next to John Lewis, to his left, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in Baltimore.


Young people of Omaha inspired by the words and work of Martin Luther King Jr. are dreaming big for their own community.

Increased diversity in Omaha schools, equal access to higher education and a decrease in bullying were among the visions for Omaha offered by winners of United Way of the Midlands' student essay contest.

Winners of this year's contest, “My Dream for My Community,” will share their thoughts with family and friends during a 10 a.m. ceremony today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The event will be held at the United Way office at 18th and Harney Streets.

United Way of the Midlands spokeswoman Kathy O'Hara said the contest is a way to engage young people in their communities.

Alexandria Schmidt, a fourth-grader at Columbian elementary, won first place for the elementary division. Alexandria's grandmother, Barbara J. Fields, said her granddaughter participates in Girl Scouts, horseback riding and music lessons, and she loves to write.

“She usually writes more than what the teacher needs,” Fields said.

Taylor Burghardt, who is an eighth-grader at Morton Magnet Middle School, wrote about bullying in her first-place essay for the middle school division.

“I have an aunt with Down syndrome, and I wrote the essay to honor her,” Taylor said.

Taylor is a member of the National Junior Honor Society at her school and participates in soccer, swimming and volleyball.

Omaha Central senior Maritza Estrada, who won first place for the high school division, wrote that she has a dream to someday help the Latino community as a doctor. Estrada said she was inspired by quotes from King.

“It made me think of my future ahead and how I want to work with the community and my Latino culture,” said Estrada, who volunteers in the community with her school's chapter of National Honor Society.

Below are the winning pieces.

FIRST PLACE: ELEMENTARY DIVISION

African-American people did not have equal rights. We could not go to certain places, get certain jobs, or even use the same restrooms as whites. Dr. King helped change that.

Mr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15th, 1929, in Atlanta, Ga. Mr. King (Jr.) was African-American. In his time, African-American people did not have equal rights. We couldn't drink from certain water fountains, we couldn't dine at certain places, we couldn't even use the same restrooms as whites and many other unfair laws. These laws were called Jim Crow laws. When Dr. King was young, there was a grocery store near his house. He had two friends, which were the grocer's sons. One day, when he went to play with them, they weren't outside so he went into their house to look for them, but their parents told Martin that he could no longer play with his companions because they were white and he was black. Martin was devastated. When he went home, he read books about famous colored people. Such as Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Gandhi, Fredrick Douglass and many other famous colored people. That inspired Martin Luther King Jr. to make a difference.

The first thing Dr. King did to change to world and his community was preaching God's message. He was also preaching our civil rights. Out of his many wonderful accomplishments, I chose two. Dr. King had marches (with many supporting followers in the march) to symbolize freedom. Dr. King also had all colored people not ride buses, and he arranged extra taxis for the people who didn't ride the bus. His method really worked, because from then on, African-Americans could sit anywhere on buses and drive buses. Dr. King was extraordinary, and on his gravestone it said “Free at Last.”

My dream for my community is to expand. I want this for my community because if more people come to Omaha, there will be more diversity and cultures, just like Dr. King wanted. In worship centers, there will be diversity and more different cultures in worship centers, schools, businesses, restaurants and the economy will grow too. If we want to change the world, “we” have to change it. Just like Dr. King.

Dr. King inspired me to help others and try to make a difference in my community and in the world. Dr. King inspired me to make a difference, and I will teach my little sister about Martin Luther King Jr. and I think that will inspire her to make a difference also. I will push myself and my little sister to get the best education I can because Dr. King wanted kids to get the best education possible. My family will help me make a difference, and get a good education. Also, if me and my little sister get a superb education, we can get a great job and career. The world would be boring and lifeless without diversity. That was Dr. King's point, and may I say, it's a great point. Diversity is what Dr. King wanted; so let's make it happen.

Alexandria Schmidt, 4th Grade, Columbian Elementary School


FIRST PLACE: MIDDLE SCHOOL

My dream

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream that all people are treated equally. I believe that his dream was carried out to some extent. My dream is that bullying and judging people comes to a stop or at least is greatly decreased.

Imagine that you're walking with a group of friends at the mall and you see somebody dressed funny. What's the first thing you do? You lean over and point them out to your friends and make fun of them. There are so many things wrong with this. You don't know where they come from or their story. They could be homeless or disabled. They could dress like that as a part of their religion.

I'm sure that you have heard the saying, “You can't judge a book by its cover.” Well, that saying means a lot to me. I have an aunt with Down Syndrome, and I always hear stories of her getting bullied, teased for her looks or that she learned slower than the other kids. If people would take the time to get to know her they would see she is one of the funniest, nicest, most caring, beautiful people that I have ever met and I wouldn't trade her for anything in the world.

It's not fair for people to get picked on because of their race, weight, looks, sexual orientation or religion. We can't change these things and we have no right to downgrade people for them. Some people choose not to come to school because they get bullied too bad. Some ways I think we could stop bullying are more clubs to support bullied kids and to be stricter about it. If you see it happening, stand up to the bully. Don't be a bystander!

If we can reduce the amount of bullying, kids will feel safer at school. They will also gain more confidence. Even if we only help one kid, they might stand up for another kid and raise their confidence. It's a cycle that continues until no more kids are getting bullied. Even if I don't live to see this day, I hope that it happens. I know that I will teach my kids not to judge others without getting to know them. I try not to judge people, but I'm human and make mistakes. I also know that I will do everything in my power to reduce bullying. Too many kids are taking their own lives because they feel worthless. I want to get the message out to everyone that they are worth something. I plan to carry out my dream just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Taylor Burghardt, 8th grade, Morton Middle School


FIRST PLACE: HIGH SCHOOL DIVISION

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” (Martin Luther King Jr.).

My dreams and hopes for the future are motivated by Mr. King's inspirational quote while reminding me to continue to have the stamina I have had since childhood. The way I interpret Martin Luther King's quote is to make the best out of each situation and have a voice. If we do certain activities that have no pertinence to us, what is the point of doing something without a passion? Having the internal drive and doing something one enjoys is key for an individual in discovering what truly matters.

I hope to provide leadership to my family, community and nation. A first-generation college student, I will be the second in my family to attend. I will then pass the torch to my two younger sisters who will follow in my footsteps. I have a broad vision for all humanity. From a young age, I have always enjoyed lending a hand, whether it was helping my mother cook, listening and advising friends regarding personal problems, or bandaging scrapes or cuts. As I grew through adolescence, my career ideas gradually progressed. I want to be a primary care physician. My volunteer experiences for the past three years have increased skills I will incorporate caring for the well-being of others.

Humanitarian and adaptable are two specific adjectives used to describe me and sincerely care for the welfare of individuals and humankind. When I become a doctor ten years from now, my bilingual abilities will have great impact in my medical practice. I envision parents and children seeing a young Latina who pursues a profession making a difference in the community and urging society past old barriers. One day I plan to provide free health care to third-world countries' underprivileged civilians. Civilians cannot do anything about their circumstances and live in oppression. Referring back to Martin Luther King's quote “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” It is my duty to be a voice for those who cannot afford health care and provide assistance.

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on...” (Martin Luther King Jr.). My vision for the community is to see more minorities attending college. Younger children would be influenced by triumphing students and thus would challenge themselves in school. Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted more minority scholars taking a rigorous course work in school to expand ones' knowledge. I envision more minorities taking advanced and honors courses in high school and beyond. Not only do I envision a rigorous course work but a high decrease in discrimination of ones' capabilities because of race, origin, nationality, sex, religion or disabilities. There is a future where one day people will not be judged by their exterior appearance but solely on the internal being.

Maritza Estrada, senior, Omaha Central High School

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