As part of the Appalachian Peace Education Center’s 32nd annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, the center asked students from the four Washington County high schools to write an essay about King’s legacy for today.

Students from all four schools submitted essays. A committee read those essays and invited one student from each school to present their essay during the center’s celebration Jan. 19 at Abingdon UMC.

In addition to these students, a combined county high school choir sang and the YWCA TechGyrls performed.

“We’re excited to have so much participation from young people this year,” said Buckey Boone, with the Appalachian Peace Education Center.

The students who presented their essays were Ainsley Dunning, John Battle High School; Makenna Castle, Abingdon High School; Heather Wakefield, Patrick Henry High School; and Josh Harris, Holston High School.

•••

Makenna Castle, Abingdon High School:

Equality is not a truthful word in the world I am growing up in. I am a Caucasian female, so I do not experience the discrimination many of my peers face on a daily. The life of a female, especially people of color, is damaging almost every day. Women are held back by numerous opportunities just because they have fear inside of them. We are not seen on the same level as men in many ways. Jobs are not offered to as many women, they are not taken as seriously, and numerous females are fearful of men.

In the workplace, women are seen on a lower level. Many do not believe that we can do things as successfully as others can, specifically men. Females usually are viewed as weak which is a reason they are not offered as many jobs. However, we are strong, some may even say stronger than men.

Fragile is one of the numerous adjectives used for describing women. Females are not taken as seriously as boys are. For centuries we have been seen as not as intelligent, powerful, or brave. All of these are not true and create insecurities in most of us.

I believe past generations have created a world that places women on an uneven podium. In my world now, this grand problem is recognized and has attempted change; however, I have not witnessed this change go into action. It is my hope that generations ahead of mine, change our world for the better and provide a runway for equality for all.

•••

Ainsley Dunning, John Battle High School:

To Change the World

In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “[W]hen you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” I found myself inexplicably reading this sentence time and time again.

“[F]orever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness.”

Who hasn’t felt “nobodiness” at one point or another? Everyone gets overwhelmed by feeling unimportant and simply not good enough. In our hateful, cruel world, it’s easy to forget the bonds which hold us together. Dr. King worked tirelessly to remind us, not of our differences, but of our similarities. We may wear different skins, but all of us are fundamentally equal.

We all love. We all cry. We all smile.

I find these ideals perhaps even more relevant today. There seems to be more ways we are different than ways we can relate to others. Sometimes, a person can seem so alien, they hardly seem human. At times like these, I think it is important to remember the “nobodiness” Dr. King spoke of. Just as each of us have felt insignificant and dispensable in our lives, so has that seemingly alien person whom you are questioning.

We must try instead to remember our similarities. To achieve equality for every walk of life, in a world filled to the brim with shattered hopes, understanding must become a priority. In order to finally make the world a place of equality and love for every human being, we must overturn the barriers of our inconsequential differences to replace them with acceptance.

That sounds like a pretty difficult task. After all, we’re only human, right? How can any one of us change the whole world? Here’s the thing. You might not be able to change the entire world in one day. But if you make a conscious effort to treat everyone with love and acceptance, and work tirelessly, as Dr. King did, for equality for all, then you have a fair chance of making a difference in others’ lives. For, even if you touch but one human soul with kindness and equality, that person might affect other people and change their lives. In this beautiful, rippling effect of applying simple equality in our daily lives, each of us can change the world.

I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams of a unified world are perhaps even more relevant today than when he first stirred the individual dreams of countless individuals. He reminds us, to this day, that equality for all is possible. The color skin we wear, as well as the countless other beautiful variations in the human race, are inconsequential compared to what lies within us. You, me, and every other human being on the planet contains the potential to begin the campaign to forever end the sense of “nobodiness.”

•••

Josh Harris, Holston High School:

America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. This nation has gone through many hardships to achieve the great freedom that we come to recognize today. However, we could not have overcome those hardships alone. People need people in order to strive. Nobody could have formed this great country by themselves. If we as a nation worked together as one people, as one group, we could achieve such amazing things.

Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized this. He saw that people together, standing arm in arm, were so much stronger than a people divided. Not only did he recognize this, but he acted upon it. He worked and took the risks necessary to bring this nation together, to end the segregation in the United States. No matter what Martin Luther King, Jr. and his people endured, they never gave up. They never gave in to society telling them that segregation is right. They all fought for the rights that they knew every person in the United States should have. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a major part of this desegregation movement; however he could not have done it without his many followers helping him endure the journey. They did it together, standing side by side. Without the many followers that Martin Luther King, Jr. obtained, segregation may have continued.

This shows the power in numbers. It makes a statement that says, “Separated we are weak, but together we are strong.” This is how every person, not only Americans, but every person in every country across the world should be. We should not hate a person because of religion, color, race, gender, or anything that may make them different then us. It separates us, which makes us weak and vulnerable to society’s harsh ways. It allows for racism to enter our communities, our households, and our country. It can turn some of the dearest friends into the harshest enemies.

We need to bring people together, not tear them apart. We live in the United States of America. We should be exactly what that title says we are — United. We are all members of the human race. We are all living on the same planet together. As far as we know, we are the only intelligent beings in the whole universe, so we are literally all each other has. Why do we constantly want to separate and segregate from people who are different when they are all we have? Yes, even though every single person on the Earth is different in some way, we are all people. We have so many more similarities than differences. We should not point out the little things that make us unique, but we should embrace them. We should use the special talents, the unique cultures, and the incredible skills of people to better society and our nation. If we bettered this great country we could then better the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to stop the segregation. He knew that together, standing arm in arm, we would be a strong people. We would be a strong country that can accomplish unremarkable achievements. He also understood that separation would lead to disaster, just as it did in the 1800’s with the Civil War. The Civil War had the most American casualties out of any other war to date, and it was all due to the separation and racism of Americans at the time. Martin Luther King, Jr. realized that we were doomed to relive that tragic event if there was not a change, if there was not equality and desegregation. He helped to make that change and keep us from such a terrible future as that.

Now we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to commemorate a remarkable man and his remarkable accomplishments in desegregation. Without such a leader as he, segregation might have continued. There could have been more deaths, more hate, and more pain. However, Martin Luther King Jr. contributed to the end of segregation by standing together, arm in arm with his followers. People need people to strive. We need others to accomplish our goals. Together we will be strong. We should all follow Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s example and not be separated, but stand together, arm in arm.

•••

Heather Wakefield, Patrick Henry High School:

Martin Luther King Jr. said “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Several years later we are fighting for what is right. Yet, still to this day there is zero equality. Half of the nation treads on the holy path to gain our freedom.

Broken promises are scattered throughout history. African Americans were promised that the segregation signs would be taken down. These signs were not removed and they remained up on stores, restrooms, and other public places. In all the laws created, colored people were still harmed for fighting for freedom. All they wanted was honesty that these changes would be made, but they never kept to that promise.

Martin King Luther Jr. had a dream that all men would be equal. The hope for everyone, colored and white, could join hands and becoming brothers. On August 2, 1776 Congress members joined together to sign the United States Declaration of Independence. This document promised that “all men” would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This means that they have the same rights as white people. African Americans had no voting rights, while whites did. Years later, thousands of signs posted everywhere stating “For Whites Only”, yet this is not happiness. Colored people were segregated. There was no equality, no hope, and no happiness.

The world needs more kindness for others. Everyone needs to get along and understand one another. If there is no warmth in people’s hearts, then we cannot move on from the past. It should not matter what color you are. All that should matter is how one acts. African Americans had to walk everywhere they wanted to go because if they were to ride the bus they would be moved. Hotels and motels kept colored people out, so they had nowhere to sleep or stay.

Several laws and people need an adjustment because nothing has changed. People still continue to use racist slangs and mistreat colored people. I feel that this is unfair and that it should be fixed. African Americans may not be slaves anymore, but they need respect. We all need to get together to find a way to adjust everyone’s attitude towards the African American rights that need to be made. Taking risks means a lot, but it’s worth it all. Everyone should be treated the same no matter how we are or what we look like.

“Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values.”-Ellen DeGeneres. If more celebrities would try to stand up for equality then maybe everyone would follow in their footsteps. Hopefully one day the world will come together and treat everyone equally.

Sign up for breaking news alerts

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Welcome to the Conversation

No name-calling, personal insults or threats. No attacks based on race, gender, ethnicity, etc. No writing with your caps lock on – it's screaming. Keep on topic and under 1,500 characters. No profanity or vulgarity. Stay G- or PG-rated.
Load comments