Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratorical Contest Winners Share Modern Take on Hero's Message

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The annual contest honors the premier civil rights leader of the 20th century, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by asking students to consider King’s vision for justice and how these lessons still apply in today’s world. Winners from the 7th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratorical Contest are: 1st Place, Jonathan Brasfield '11; 2nd Place, Angelie Montesa '09; 3rd Place, Carlos Salazar '08.


2008 Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratorical Contest
1st Place Winner: Jonathon Brasfield '11

 Dreams are God's way of showing his mercy on us. A dream can be a manifestation of a supernatural thought or image. Slaves had dreams of one day being free. People have short memories for it appears today's generation is so quick to forget their roots. People died for us just to express ourselves and voice our opinion. God has showed his grace on us time and time again by giving us the ability to have better opportunities than our forefathers. Difference means loneliness, because ultimately, to be different, you must be set apart and willing to face rejection. But it's this difference or loneliness that has enabled African Americans of today to have a chance. Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Dr. Martin Luther King, and countless others standing up for our right Civil Rights went against the normal code of conduct that Blacks were suppose to follow.

Going against the trend activist enabled African Americans of our day a chance to the tree of life. "I Have a Dream," does that ring a bell? On August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C., (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would finally voice his opinion in the name of Jesus). Martin Luther King, Jr. was a wise and strong black man. But even he needed the support of his people to open the public's eyes. A prophet of his time, Dr King, Jr., he foretold a day when people would be judged by not the color of their skin but the content of their character. Dr. King saw a day when people could live in unity as one, not just blacks and whites but humanity as a whole. Look around this room and what do you see?. Do you see a particular race? No you see people as one living in unity. Dr. King envisioned people living and loving each other for who we are. People are the only thing in life that has any substance. (You can't take your Mercedes up to heaven can you?)

Dr. King wanted people to love each other the way that the Lord made them. Why be separate but equal when, in actuality, we are all equal. We all are breathing and in the land of the living. Life is too short to hate people for the way they are made. Look upon the many faces around this room; what do you see? I'll tell you what I see. I see wonderful people who are God's beautiful creation. Dare to be different. Don't be part of the trend. Stand up for peace and liberty. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be disgusted by all the violence the world has taken up. People killing each other--over what? Bloods, Crips, what does it truly mean, absolutely nothing? We should eliminate the violence, starting here forth. The Martin Luther King parade down Crenshaw Blvd. is supposed to be celebration representing an ambassador of goodwill. But what has it become? It has become a way for people of color—and when I say color, I don’t just mean blacks. I mean all races to show their true colors. Ignorance, and fighting one another, is not the answer we need to seek.

I don't see why people look so much into skin tone. It's astounding to me because I believe that because I'm black don't put me in that typical Negro category, 'cause if you ask me, nothing about me is typical. My heritage roots from the richness of the Niger Delta; now tell me, is that typical? I'm tired of hiding my heritage. It's for me to be different. I am not my skin, meaning that the color of skin doesn't define me for the well-rounded person I am. I love everybody the same no matter what. (Dare to be different; separate yourself from the trend; forget what people may think). It's time for people to grow up and stop limiting their lives to a social discourse that they think is the only acceptable way of living. For when you live this way, you miss out on all the beautiful people that God may put in your life for a reason. Live, Life, Love. And cherish your friends because they can show you a new appreciation for culture. All these jokes about the immutable differences that God has endowed us with are not okay. "Ghetto," "Wetb****," "Ch***," "N*****"—all those terms need to be taken out of your vocabulary for they are the derogatory terms that condemn this entire nation to poverty and social immobility.

I'm not trying "take you to church," as we call it in the south. But the Bible says in St. Matthew 7: 1, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." What that's saying is that you don't have to right to judge anybody 'cause were all made of the same fabric. We all go the same way; even the richest man one day must lie down and die and turn to dust. Leave all the worldly things behind. Just because you make a six figures and your neighbor is barely making ends meet doesn't give you the authority to judge and critic. In the Book of Revelations 1:8, it states, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." Now what this means is that we have no right to judge anybody. God is the King of his kingdom, and he's a jealous God (oh yes he is).

When you spend so much time trying to find something not to like about a person, you miss out on your blessings. Look around the room. Dare to be different. Now what I want I want you to do is give thy neighbor a hug. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a powerful man whose words will lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with the what, ring with the harmony of liberty. Let's break down the barriers that lies have put up in our past. Dr. King spoke for all races alike; he was truly a blessing from God.

Willing to give his life for a cause greater than himself Dr. King knew what was to come. April 3, 1968—a day before Dr. King would be assassinated—he stated:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.
Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now.
I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain.
And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land.
I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will
Get to the promised land!
And so I'm happy, tonight.
I'm not worried about anything.
I'm not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

In his statement, Dr. King is referring to Deuteronomy 34:4, when Moses goes onto the mountain top and looks and sees the promised land, just before the Lord took him home. Dr. King's reference to this powerful scripture in the Bible shows as a testimony to his willingness to die for a greater cause. In the book of St. John 15:13, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Are you willing to be different? Are you willing to make the ultimate sacrifice? The legacy of Dr. King precedes his teachings and should inspire us as people to make a change.

Life is what you make it; don't expect a utopian society if you're not willing to sacrifice to make sure that this goal is met. Don't be a spectator and expect a change to just happen. Dare To Be Different. Stand up for what you believe. Be proud of your heritage because it's the only piece of your lineage that attributes to you.

Be a participant, and make the change. Dare to be different, for nothing worth having in life is easy to attain. Rise up against oppression, for culture enslaves society. Break down the color lines, cutting the chains of disparity with love. For when we make these changes, the heavens will sing and the angels will rejoice. For we as a people will dare to be different! For finally we will be—in the words of Dr. King—"Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"


2008 Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratorical Contest
2nd Place Winner: Angelie Montesa '09

We are told we have a developed society. It has grown through inventions and ideas. But is Dr. King's call to live as brothers and sisters a part of our developed society? Where does compassion tie into this? It doesn't appear to me that we have learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters and we have not understood what compassion means.

But there are human teachers all over the world ready to lead us into Dr. King's vision. Imagine a bashful and delightful little girl, dressed in pink sweats and no more than 3 or 4 years old. She waves hello and comes running out with many children holding out her hand timidly. Reality didn't hit me until the day that I met this little girl.

I just recently had the opportunity to travel for one week this past November to Morocco, where 80% of the villages live without electricity or running water and 1/3 out of its population of 29 million live below the poverty line. I was witness to the many areas of poverty and inequality between men and women. I did not fully understand the art of living until my journey through Morocco. Believing that I would be learning about another culture, I would later find out that I had learned much more than just culture, I truly learned what it means to struggle to live.

I began my journey by preparing myself physically. Being a woman, I was not allowed to take any article of clothing that was revealing in any particular way. My arms and legs were to remain covered during the entire trip. Almost immediately upon my arrival, I noticed that there was a stronger presence of men in the streets and learned that women respected their place in society by staying at home. I immediately sensed how far women have come in our country and had a little taste of what oppression felt like. In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King stated during his Nobel Peace prize acceptance speech, "Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself." It became obvious to me that the moment I stepped out into this new culture and way of life I became aware and began to appreciate the birthright of freedom that had been bestowed upon me, including equality amongst one another. This is the very freedom, which Dr. King fought for.

The next several days I spent in the South of Morocco in the Sahara Desert. The Sahara desert is known to be a massive, desolate environment with difficult terrain and dry climate; it is also a place of mystery, beauty, and serenity. Ironically, I saw this area as a great emptiness overflowing with beauty. It is difficult to describe to you the grandeur of such a natural and basic area of land. For seeing is believing.

On my second day, I was taken on a 2 hour hike through the Sahara to climb one of the higher mountain tops to watch the sun rise. At this moment in my mind, I painted life filled with love, hope, faith, and beauty amongst a world of injustice and suffering. Unfortunately, in such a beautiful area, more than 500,000 children under the age of 15 are subjected to child labor, resulting in 2 out of every 5 children being exploited. It is Dr. King's philosophy of love that became the basis for his concept of justice. Like Dr. King, it is essential to hold out hope that our world might one day truly embrace a higher and better sense of morale.

Later that same day, I visited a small local village and this is when reality hit me. When my group and I entered the village, a number of children came running out in the streets begging for money or food. A majority of the children were below the age of 10 and just receiving a simple piece of fruit or a bottle of water was enough to put a big smile on their faces. It saddened me to thing that there was a distinct possibility that their parents could send them away for work. I especially could not imagine the little girl in pink with the outstretched hand being sent away to work in a few years. Such a beautiful and happy face could possibly be filled with sadness and misery. The small gesture of giving her a juicy orange became a source of uttered delight. I sat and sang traditional songs, which was enough to bring happiness and laughter that day. It was those cheerful smiles and bright laughter that stood in stark contrast to their uncertain future and made me feel a connection to Dr. King's motivation to change. Through Dr. King's philosophy of love and justice, true compassion is produced through a revolution of values, and this revolution of values can bring restructuring to the gap between wealth and poverty. Sincere compassion requires more than the façade of handing out money and food to those who need it. It requires deep empathy and understanding; a strong voice and audacity; good will and character. During this part of my journey, I came in touch with the vision of a human in need and was witness to basic compassion. Dr. King was determined to change the social structure of society, therefore committing himself to encouraging African Americans to build alliances that wanted social change.

On the drive back from the Sahara, our group took several rest stops in the middle of nowhere and even in such a desolate area people emerged, hungry and in need. My group and I gave them our food and the simple things I took for granted, such as notebooks and pencils. With this, I identified the things that had meaning and purpose; as a result I saw what the art of living was. Dr. Martin Luther King had truly discovered the art of living, he saw injustice and need in the world, and consequently, he felt compassion. In a time of racism and inequality, Dr. King accepted himself as an African American searching for justice, because he knew that when we resist or deny certain aspects of who we are, we are at war with ourselves, and with everything that is going on in the world, it is hard to have any peace of mind and make change. Dr. King chose to be different and to make a difference in society. I realized that through my experience, the art of listening to the laughter of children in need and the art of seeing injustice, I have seen the art of living and I have seen how that smallest forms of compassion can make a difference in the lives of others when one is not afraid to make the difference and to be the difference.

In conclusion, it was once said, "There is a power under your control that is greater than poverty, greater than lack of education, greater than all your fears and superstitions combined. It is the power to take possession of your own mind and direct it to whatever ends you may desire." So what does it mean to me to live as brothers and sisters in a developed society? It is the tangible acts of compassion and simple acts of sharing, such as food and basic school materials. A change of mind can make a change in a moment in time in one person's life, and this to me is how we can live Dr. King's vision.


2008 Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratorical Contest
3rd Place Winner: Carlos Salazar '08

It is much easier to ask someone to change themselves because change can be dramatic,difficult and scary. No one wants to be the one to change, they simply chose to the pass the buck, or point their finger. When someone is different do you embrace them or challenge what they are with silence and disdain.

At a young age we were taught that when you point at someone, three fingers are always pointing right back at you. Where did that lesson go? We have all be witness to petty insults, racism, prejudice, discrimination, but we sit quiet. We let it happen subconsciously because we are afraid of what they might think of us. We ask ourselves,"What would they say about me?" We were not born to be brave, we are taught; we observe the heroes that we have had and follow their legacy. We are all here today to celebrate one man who lived and breathed strength and was killed for his beliefs— but his legacy will always live on in us. We take today to remember this American hero because of not only who he was, but what he was able to accomplish.

If he were here today, he would challenge us to be more. He would advocate we not be scared of those around us who suffer from ignorance and stupidity, but to teach them, to make them better people. We live in a world that suffers from unnecessary violence where thousands upon thousands die because of ignorance and lack of information. Those around this ungodly death sit, watch, or flee; but who speaks up and reminds them that we are all in this together? We are all a part of the same race: the human race. We are one, and no one should die through the hands of hate but be accepted for their diversity. It is easy to find excuses for what we do, or why you couldn't change what happened, or be the change that you wish to see— but, again, it is much easier to sit quietly.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was never scared of adversity. He confronted it, embraced it with his life. His strength should be our testament to what we can accomplish if we "Dare to be Different." But what does that mean—"be different?"

At the root of many of past, current, and future conflicts are always at least two sides. These sides oppose each other based on issues that can be handled peacefully: a "war of words," not a war of who has the biggest ego. As time goes by, stronger, tougher, and deadlier means of warfare are being developed. And we just wait. Plain and simple, if we do not stand up and speak up, we empower those who have already made devastating decisions that have caused us all to lose someone that we know or love. This is not only limited to the men and women in our armed forces, but our loved ones that died on 9/11, or by natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, or by stupid politicians that watch people suffer and die all over the country but do nothing to help— yet still help others across the world. As we speak, wars of hate, conflicts of interests, disputes over materialist gain, arguments between governments that result in the loss of our friends and loved ones, and yet we sit silently. Not doing anything is a decision that we make.

Ask yourself what would Martin Luther King Jr. do? What would Gandhi do? Would they let our government or the governments of those around us make decisions that affect us all? As many of you know, my generation has had severe apathy in regards to voting and getting involved. As a country, our participation is dismal, giving our elected representatives the power to make deadly decisions on our behalf.

I challenge you not to be scared, and dare you to be different then your peers who prefer others to make decisions for them. Different then your friends who choose to not get involved or claim that it is a waste of their time. I dare you to get involved in the decisions that affect all of us to make a difference; as Gandhi adequately put it, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I remind you that these two world heroes fought with their words not with their might. They were thousands of miles apart but they shared the same vision, which they believed could be achieved through peaceful conditions. MLK, Jr. said, "Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal." He challenged us to educate our peers and be more then what we are to arrive at our universal goal of happiness.

The word "different" has many meanings, but the one that we must be reminiscent of is "diversity." We are all different, coming from different cultural and adverse backgrounds. MLK, Jr. challenged those around him to embrace their individuality and let it shine. He dared those around him to be diverse and not be intimidated by what others thought.

Regardless of what religion you believe in, your individuality is a gift, and you should share it with the world. Be proud to be different because you can teach another about where you come from. Be fearless of what others might think of you because they simply don’t know or understand. And be unique because your individuality is what makes you "you"— and that is something you must share with the world.

The King's dream was to share and create a world where we are not challenged by our differences, but share those differences with others. All of us have been exposed to his dream because of the leading consequences that followed. But that dream of a better world of equality for all has yet to be achieved. We should be the ones to accomplish his dream because of what this world could be.

I leave you with this. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." I challenge you to follow the words of this hero, because if he didn't follow his own advice, where would we be today?