I found an essay I wrote for a writing contest when I was 16 about Martin Luther King Jr.
I recently got a box from my family of some of my childhood school assignments and works which I kept mostly because deep down, I didn’t want my work to go to waste.
In that box, I found a calendar from 2011 — ten years ago from the writing of this article (“time flies” is something I mutter to myself more and more these days).
In that calendar is printed an essay I wrote for a writing contest back when I was 16 years old. The contest was put on by a non-profit which “has worked to create systemic change in the community by equipping individuals to resist bias, bigotry, bullying, and violence” — a mission statement that I supported back then and support now.
My short essay won first place for my school, and because the awards ceremony was sponsored by the San Francisco 49ers, I got to meet former 49ers (and Packers and Eagles) offensive lineman Guy McIntyre and former 49ers defensive end Dennis Brown. They were really nice and even took photos with me.
Below in this article, I’m sharing that essay not to brag about how I won a contest in high school (that would be quite sad), but more because it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day today (who deserves all the reflection possible on his day), because I wrote this ten years ago (and we are drawn to such milestones), and because I think that a lot of it (even in my relatively limited worldview back when I couldn’t even drive) still holds up.
In school, I was always dismayed and saddened by what I was learning in textbooks and from my teachers about the horrific treatment of African Americans throughout the history of the country I lived in. In those same classrooms, Martin Luther King Jr. became a hero of mine — and I’m not at all unique here — for taking a real stand with very real consequences.
And while today I wouldn’t write the essay exactly like this, and while I’d refine many of the lines to be more specific and also reflect how my beliefs have grown in depth and nuance, what hasn’t changed is that I’m still dismayed and saddened with the events of the past and present not leading to a satisfactory pace of progress (what also hasn’t changed, of course, is that Martin Luther King Jr. is still a hero).
Progress, I’ve learned in these ten years since, is incremental. It can be so frustrating in its constant exchange of steps forward and back, but the pursuit of it can’t be abandoned if the goal is truly right — and the one Martin Luther King Jr. championed is truly right.
My essay back then — printed below, word for word — projected my own optimism alongside King’s, and while today I’m more weathered and weary with the ups and downs in the movement since 2011, I still maintain the general spirit of hope for the future I tried to convey when I was 16.
Vision. What vision did Martin Luther King Jr. have for the world? In his acceptance speech for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964, King revealed an optimistic outlook.
“I have the audacity,” King proclaimed, “to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
King’s hope was unheard of at the time — people everywhere provided with such blessings? During that troubled era of American history, an African American man in certain areas of the country could not even drink at the same water fountain much less expect to be treated with dignity. However, with the tides rushing against him, King dreamed.
Martin Luther King Jr. dared to think the impossible. He dared to make his visions become reality. In his eyes, King aspired for everyone to be guaranteed the basic essentials for a healthy and fulfilling life, whether they be for the body, mind, or soul.
The year is 1950, and a baby is born. He is African American. He will not have the same rights in life as a Caucasian baby born at the exact moment in time. Before he can even blink an eye, he is doomed by the limitation of the color of his skin — or is he? According to the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr., this baby can hope and dream for equality.
This baby can strive for education, strive for culture, strive for dignity, and strive for freedom. This baby can be great.
Through his words, the fact becomes clear: King was bold and confident in his dream. His audacious hope for African Americans to unite as one through the trinity of their bodies, minds, and spirits certainly was an unlikely goal. However, the goal was not impossible and thus could happen with determination.
King saw the amazing potential of a united group of African Americans and sought to seize the moment with full fervor.
King knew he and his followers would have a long road filled with hard work, but he did not back down. They were a force to be reckoned with and were absolutely capable of challenging color barriers, shown in their historic March on Washington in 1963. Not only would African Americans have access to their three basic daily meals, but also to schooling, culture, and the rich pride that accompanies freedom.
That December 10, 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. looked out at his attentive audience. The man had just won a Nobel Peace Prize, an astounding achievement that most would be satisfied to have as the pinnacle of their career.
Yet standing there in the moments before filling the room with his booming and powerful voice, King knew he could not afford to be complacent. The fate of African Americans everywhere rested on his shoulders.
Then — with complete confidence — he shared his mind, shared his goals, shared his beliefs, and shared his hopes.