Only the inside should matter

One of several bookmarks honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. -- created by ASU from K-12 student entries in their most recent MLK, Jr. Day poster-essay contest

I was struck by this simple sentiment as I enjoyed the online gallery of winning writings and artwork from an MLK poster-essay contest sponsored by Arizona State University.

After putting out the call last fall to K-12 students throughout the state, ASU received more than 17,000 entries. Students were invited to submit an essay about someone they know who “leads through service to others.”

The 24 winners will be honored Thurs, Jan 20, at a special event with ASU president Michael Crow and other special guests, including the students’ parents, teachers and principals.

Winners receive a savings bond and prize ribbon, and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their work displayed both online and at two Valley locations — the Memorial Union at ASU in Tempe and the Student Union at ASU Polytechnic in Mesa.

The exhibits, being held Jan 18-31, are free and open to the public. They’re part of a month long celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy.

Other January events that are part of ASU’s celebration of MLK, Jr. Day include a march, a reenactment of MLK’s “I have a dream…” speech, a food drive, a film screening, a theater performance and a poetry jam. (Click here for event details/locations.)

Justice poster by a Gilbert senior named Amanda

Each sounds plenty inspiring, though I find the greatest meaning in simply enjoying the words and pictures of students who recognize the importance of justice, service and lifelong learning to the ongoing march towards greater civil and human rights for all people.

Many of the elementary school winners, including 2nd grader Miriah, live in Mesa.

Miriah wrote about a friend named Stephanie — who delights in giving free haircuts to those in need, including homeless people in her own hometown and people as far away as Africa. “I want to be like Stephanie when I get older,” writes Miriah.

Another 2nd grader, Brooke, wrote about grandparents and other family members who assemble “hygiene kits” for people effected by natural disasters, while a 2nd grader named Brady wrote of a grandfather who collects “coloring books, balls, food and toys” for children in Mexico.

“My dad,” writes 4th grader Annie, “is the best example of service I know. His name is Dad.” Annie says that her dad “volunteers for all sorts of things.” Annie’s essay describes how her dad spends his time — “and its not watching television.”

A 5th grader named Jenah wrote an essay praising a coach named Kyle. She describes him as “a kind, amusing, elated, brave man.” “Whenever I am with him,” writes Jenah, “I learn something new.”

Another 5th grader, Tanner, wrote about his grandfather picking up trash each day as he takes a walk through the neighborhood — and his grandmother sewing “very, very big quilts” for those who need them.

Abigail, a 6th grader, wrote about her 20-year-old sister — detailing Sam’s work with Best Buddies, Locks of Love and other programs that help Valley youth. Abigail notes that despite Sam’s busy schedule, “she can always take me to my classes and my plans.”

Many of the middle and high school students who won hail from Scottsdale, including a 7th grader named Sanket who wrote about Dave, a man who often reads to children and tells them stories.

Rachel, an 8th grade student, wrote about her father’s work with organizations like Make-a-Wish and Parents of Murdered Children. “I believe what my dad does to help people…makes the world a better place.”

A 10th grader, also named Rachel, detailed the work of a doctor who organized people to help victims of last year’s earthquake in Haiti after years of working with “disabled adults” in that country. 

She writes as well of the importance of education — “I feel that in a country where we are so educated, we should take that education to help and teach other countries that don’t have the same opportunities as we have.”

A 1oth grader named Allysan wrote about a family friend in college who raises money to help victims of genocide in Darfur, while 10th grader Ema offered words about her sister that reveal insights into the role of youth in shaping the future…

“The early stages of our life determine who we are,” writes Ema, “and who we are going to be in the years to come.”

“The fate and future of the world,” she adds, “resides with the youth of today.”

— Lynn

Note: Families will one day be able to visit a Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial on the Washington Mall in Washington, D.C. To learn more about the nature and development of this memorial, click here.

Coming up: Local exhibits of children’s art inspired by MLK, Jr. Day

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