Had he lived, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 53 years old Friday. And for the third year, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, in cooperation with the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, asked District students from elementary school to high school to set down in essay, poster and mural form "What Martin Luther King Jr. Means to Me." What follows are three essays judged the best in their class and three of the winning posters. Winning essayists will read excerpts from their works in an award ceremony Friday at the B'Nai B'rith building at 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Winning posters and murals will be on display there.
In all, more than a dozen District youth earned Awards and Honorable Mentions in the contest for their posters, essays and art projects based on the slain civil rights leader's life and work.
Poster winners are Michael Vincent Harold, Woodrow Wilson Senior High; Donald Williams, Eliot Junior High; Larry Bryant, Bancroft Elementary; and Melvin Bethea, Bruce Monroe Elementary.
Winning essayists were Wilma Ellis, 11, Montgomery Elementary, grades 5-6; Sherrod Stanard, 14, Jefferson Junior High, grades 7-9; and Elaine M. Ward, 16, Roosevelt Senior High, grades 10-12. Honorable Mentions for essays went to Donna Davidson, Brightwood Elementary; Leila Davis, Charles Young Elementary; Victor Scott, Wheatley Elementary; Brudgette Moore and Pamela Martin, Johnson Junior High; Juliette Forbes, Rabaut Junior High; Robin L. White, Calvin Coolidge Senior High; Cotrenia Ross, Banneker Senior High; and Jesse Sellman, Ellington School of the Arts.
The Stevens Elementary sixth-grade class' mural, coordinated by art teacher Theodore D. Rice, earned an honorable mention. Honorable mentions for class art projects also went to Walker Jones, Hearst, Brightwood and Bancroft elementary schools.
'I Believe in His Teachings'
The life of Dr. Martin Luther King has had an impact on each American's life whether it is recognized or not. I do not know if the minimum or maximum of 500 words can evaluate the meaning of such a monumental life. It could be expressed in more or less. Dr. King's life means inner beauty and dedication.
Dr. Martin Luther King lived his whole life as if commissioned to a cause. He was a remarkable man. I wonder if he ever was a boy? His whole being was dedicated to the cause of justice. He felt that these rights were God-given and not man-bestowed. Dr. King only lived to be 39 before he was struck down by an assassin's bullet. But he accomplished more in those years than most individuals achieve in a lifetime. He lived with purpose and courage. People all over the world drew strength and inspiration from him. I am sure that at times he may have been baffled about this given charge to combat injustice. But he had to have had an intrinsic peace knowing that there was a purpose to his life rather than grasping a lifetime to find what his intent was.
I feel that Dr. King's calling as a minister gave him insight into God's plan. He was assigned to his first church after he earned a doctorate from Boston University in 1954. It was fateful that this first church was in the segregated city of Montgomery, Ala. It was then that an old, tired black lady refused to give up her seat to a white man. The moment was historic. From then on Dr. King spurred to organize the citywide boycott of the bus system. After 382 days Montgomery bus companies agreed to desegregate. Martin Luther King had just begun to fight injustice.
His rise to leadership came after he formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He and his followers began the nonviolent protest movement. Dr. King reflected on the teachings of Mahatma Gandi, Jesus and many black historical leaders. Millions of Americans watched in disbelief as King's orderly marchers were turned back by firehoses and snarling dogs. Many people, black and white, rallied to his cause of freedom and justice for all oppressed.
Across America black and white citizens came to respect and love this man. His followers included every economic condition, culture, religion and race. Many people still did not like his methods. Some believed that he did not push hard enough; others believed that he was too persistent. Many just could not comprehend nonviolent methods. I believe in his teachings. For his dedication to nonviolent methods, he brought others up to his level; he did not stoop to theirs. For this he earned respect internationally. For this, I greatly respect him.
When Dr. King led the March on Washington in 1963, 200,000 people came together in common dedication to the cause of justice. Dr. King spoke of his dreams that America would one day live out her creed that all men are created equal. The support Americans gave evidenced the wisdom of our country's founding fathers.
When Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, America died a little. At his funeral a tape of one of his last sermons was played. In it he described himself as "a drum major for justice." He also spoke of his death. He sensed that he would not see his mission to its end. I did not see or hear fear in knowing that Dr. King was aware of the consequences of continuing the fight for justice. He was dedicated to a purpose. He seemed to find beauty and determination from within.
Thousands of Americans watched his funeral on television. At the end of the service, the body was taken to the cemetery and placed in a marble crypt. The words inscribed into the marble were clearly visible: "Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, I'm Free at Last." His body was interred but never his spirit. These are the words I choose to describe Dr. Martin Luther King. D stands for Daring to be different, R stands for Rights to be secured, M stands for Drum Major for justice, A stands for Agreements without violence, R stands for Refusing to be denied, T stands for Toughness in spirit, I stands for Integrity of intellect, N stands for Nobel Peace Prize, received so humbly, L stands for Love of all mankind, U stands for unity of cause, T stands for teacher of character and mind, H stands for Herculean in his task, E stands for Esteem, the world gave R stands for Respect, he commanded and gave K stands for the Kindness he shared, I stands for Independence he dared, N stands for Nearness to Godliness, and G stands for his Greatness.
Sherrod Stanard, age 14, Jefferson Junior High, winner--Grades 7-9
'I Had a Vision'
I remember the days when I listened to my grandparents talk about the problems blacks faced with racial injustice. They talked about a black man named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his efforts to achieve racial justice and his dream of a place called the Promised Land.
After listening to these conversations about Dr. King, the Promised Land was where I wanted to go. I had a vision of a place where there would be endless happiness. A place where mankind can unite and become one. This is a vision that must become a reality.
I have been taught indirectly by Dr. King. His works have taught me numerous ways just from listening to them and reading them. He has made me aware that I have to work hard and try to be the best at whatever I endeavor to do in life. I know by doing this that it will be achieved through nonviolence because he taught me that nonviolence is the right way to achieve my goals, should I ever encounter prejudice.
Dr. King spoke the language of the common man. His speeches were always forceful and meaningful. He worked hard and helped to improve the standards of blacks in America. Dr. King left a longstanding mark for blacks to follow. He contributed toward the improvement of mankind and his efforts will never be forgotten.
Dr. King has been a wonderful example for the human race. One of his most overwhelming and meaningful goals to me was to accomplish racial justice within the human race. In spite of the many difficulties Dr. King experienced he kept on trying and so should we. Even if we have to struggle to achieve it, or any of our goals, it does not matter, just as long as we do achieve them.
The works and actions of Dr. King have been extremely helpful to me, and I would hope that they would be to other blacks. His actions and his beliefs will make me become a better person. With such beliefs as his, he made me understand that I must take advantage of every opportunity available to me. It does not matter that I am black, anything in life that I wish to achieve, Dr. King has proved to me that I can do it.
Dr. King changed unjust conditions through nonviolent acts. Such nonviolent acts included boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, peace marches, and eloquent speeches. He was a man with peace and kindness in his heart. He wanted to see that racial justice was accomplished through these nonviolent acts.
Dr. King was a man who gave his life for all of us. We as blacks have traveled a long way on that road of life, but we still have a long way to travel until we reach that world that was his dream.
I know that Dr. King still lives within the hearts of all mankind. I believe to show just how much he meant to us, that every year, we should gather on January the 15th to celebrate his day.
By Elaine M. Ward, age 16, Roosevelt Senior High, winner--Grades 10-12
Martin Luther King means responsibility, love, and reliability to me. He was a great man. Some people forget that it was Martin who stood up for our rights. Nowadays we are all to ourselves; we don't realize what some people have been through to help us. We should remember in the 1950s and 1960s there was a great man who lived, and his name is Martin Luther King. He was a kind and dignified man. Those who don't know anything about Martin should learn about him. Just by seeing his movies and listening to his speeches would make you feel like you knew him. Dr. King was a religious man. He made the greatest sacrifice of all, his life for his people.
He was a wonderful man; he was a very strong-minded man. Bold Martin held high the rights he sought to win. He preached it's wrong to judge one by the color of his skin. He was proud of us; are we not proud of him? He is a man who died for liberty! Are we so blind as not to see humanity his cause? He has inspired me to become a leader of my people.
Thank you, Martin.
By Wilma Ellis, age 11 Montgomery Elementary, winner--Grades 5-6