First-year student Adrian Gonzales was the first place winner of the 8th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and Oratorical Contest at Whittier College. The annual event honors the life and legacy of Dr. King and seeks to inspire students to imagine how they can play a role in the continuing struggle for civil rights and social justice in the U.S. and around the world.
"[In] this new, progressive year of 2009, there is work to be done. And today I am here to tell you that we cannot wait because when we look for an opportune time to act, the time is now," said Gonzales during his speech, echoing the theme of the evening, The Time is Now.
Each of the winning speeches emphasized the need for young people to continue to be active participants in social and political change. The competition was organized by Director of residential life Delaphine Hudson and the residential life staff.
Adrian Gonzales — First Place Winning Essay
January 29, 2009
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. For years now I have heard the word ''Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never’.”
When writing a letter from his jail cell in Birmingham of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. expresses to his fellow clergymen that waiting to take action in the face of oppression is not an option; that every moment postponed is given to the advantage of the opponent. We have seen segregation and hate crimes as a rich source of history not only in the United States, but around the world, and, still, in this new, progressive year of 2009, there is work to be done. And today I am here to tell you that we cannot wait because when we look for an opportune time to act, the time is now.
Forty six years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. stood before a crowd of 250,000 people and spoke of a dream, and this dream was not of the vision that we see today. Yes, we have made progress, but we are still far from embodying King’s dream.
On November 4th, 2008, California passed a bill known as Proposition 8. Now, I’m not about to argue the pro’s and con’s of same sex marriage, but I would like to bring up an interesting fact. Many proponents say that since Prop 8 passed, it proves more voters would rather not deal with the deviance of same-sex marriage, but was it not deviant when Americans wanted to abolish slavery or when women demanded their suffrage? Was it not deviant when Americans asked the government to recognize people of all race, ethnicity, and religion as equal citizens and human beings? Deviance may derive in small numbers as obscure ideas, but when collective, it causes change.
We also have to remember the millions of people all over the world suffering from deprivation of their basic human rights. Every year almost 27 million slaves are trafficked around the world. In Haiti, over 300,000 children are enslaved as servants. India, Nepal and Pakistan have more than 18 million slaves working in agriculture and producing consumer materials. Why I am telling you this? Today I came here to speak about the continuation of Martin Luther King’s dream and to adhere to that dream, there’s a whole world looking to be relieved of their degradation. But now the question is: what am I suppose to do to continue that dream? I'm about to tell you.
Movements do not start by a single person, but by a group of people who come together after discovering their common endeavor. According to Napoleon Hill’s, Law of Success, when multiple people harmoniously cooperate, a "Master Mind" is created; and this Master Mind is a source of energy that compels those involved to find all resources necessary to succeed. In 1964, while delivering his speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet," Malcolm X informs his audience, "I’m not here to argue or discuss anything that we differ about, because it's time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem." Malcolm X knew that without adamant cooperation the civil rights movement would not have been successful, but with a Master Mind, those involved would fulfill their ambition. Today, our common enemy is ourselves, so let us submerge our differences and whatever religious, political, romantic or moral differences we have, let us look past these juxtaposing views and overcome our pride to embrace human diversity.
And if you think now is not the time because you’re too old or you’re too young, I believe you’re mistaken. An old dog can learn new tricks and you’re never too young to make a difference. I want to tell you the story of a local Fullerton resident by the name of Ethan Matsuda. Ethan saw our culture's lack of awareness and decided that the time was now and launched a campaign supporting Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez in proposing the "US and the World Education Act." Ethan was quoted saying, "My parents' generation has left us a big mess of the world. Global warming, industrial pollution, famine, drought, war and child labor are just a few of the problems we will have to tackle. We cannot wait for them to act" How old is Ethan? He’s ten years old, but even he is able to see the importance of global cooperation and human compassion as a means of alleviating needless suffering.
In this year of 2009, we must look upon the example of Ethan and take action to fix the problems of this sad generation. We are in the midst the greatest economic slump since the Great Depression and there are millions of unemployed citizens fighting just to make the bill at the end of the month. All over the world slavery, genocide, and the suppression of human and civil rights occur each and every single day. We are also in an age where global warming and climate change are exponentially occurring due to industrial pollution, vast emissions of greenhouse gasses, deforestation and the massive amounts of consumer litter that cover both sea and land. As Clarence Jones, a former advisor for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once said, "if a significant part of your time is spent on this foolishness called racism, or if a significant part of your time is spent considering whether A should be allowed to marry B," our population will not be able to flourish nor blossom, so, the sooner we strive to achieve King's dream of peace and equality, the sooner we can overcome the issue of keeping our beautiful home that we call Earth, sustainable. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, and he tried to tell us that we can’t wait; he tried to tell us that the time to act was now. If the world was wondering when the time was to act, let‘em know that in 2009, the time is now.
Natalie Smythe — Second Place Winning Essay
January 29, 2009
The phrase seems to suggest that a change of some sort is required or demanded. It also seems as if it is often used to encourage a change to continue. When I first read the theme for today, I was almost immediately inspired to motivate some change myself. It is not too surprising to find that almost 500 trillion applicable topics come to mind all at once. I don't think I'm alone in naming (amongst many other things, on a national perspective) our current financial crisis, our healthcare system, or our politics as worthy candidates for things "it's about time" we paid attention to. Ladies and gentlemen, it's not almost time; not 5 minutes to, and not ten after; it's not just-about-time; it IS time. If you were wondering when, it's simple.
The time is now.
On a global perspective, we have civil wars, and genocide—casualties of men, women, and children, too. It's almost obvious that the time is now for radical changes that promote our well-being as humans; as neighbors to the several other species that inhabit this world we all share.
But we know this; hey—We've known this right? In a strange way, it's always been time—we seem to still be in the middle of that time, still working through the processes of change. It will always be time. Like a sturdy pocket watch, change never stops. Each day we get closer and closer to some conclusion. But sometimes it's just so easy to get trapped in the task of blaming others and linking every problem to one solution; sometimes that very solution breeds ten new problems; sometimes it seems as if things are ballooning out of control, and there's no way to stop it or slow it down. An end seems inevitable. The end seems inevitable. It seems as if "real change" can never be actualized. In some cases, this might all be true; but I've recently realized that for the most part it just isn't so. In response to such situations, we tense up and lose control of our natural human rationale and find that we have no answer to any question. If only we could somehow calm down and take a moment for reflection
My January-Interim course this year had the opportunity to attend a 10 day monastic life retreat at a nearby Buddhist temple; you won't be surprised to hear that I had plenty of time to turn all these thoughts inward and literally meditate. While I was there, the concept of mindfulness was an encouraged practice, so of course, we all gave it a shot; and I've come to realize that in stimulating change, you have to be persistent and aware—constantly. Though it may seem simple, practicing it 24/7 is quite demanding in self-control and discipline. But in slowing down—living in the moment-- there are so many things that seem new to us, when they've simply been there all along, vying for our attention anticipating the focus of our sight. Moments, even this one right here, they seem almost insignificant in the infinite span of time; but if I were to relate the size of this moment to one lily in a famous Van Gogh, then you might be able to see the real significance of now. Without that lily, the painting is incomplete and its potential unfulfilled. The same goes for this moment in time and in staying persistent throughout every moment in order to affect change over time. Every step, every word, every action, every day counts for something. In the same way that each moment matters in the span of time, each detail instills beauty and unity in the bigger picture. Human beingsyou, me, and everyone we know—are a part of something whole and unified; something much bigger than we typically think about. The time is now to be aware of all that is around us, and the significance of our place within it.
In addition to thinking about my place in the world and being able to stimulate change, I realized that I'm not the only one out here. Now I know that seems obvious, especially with all of you here with me tonight, but it's a competitive comforting realization. When you first think about yourself, you're saying, "Yeah! I matter! I count for something!" but shortly after, you might wonder and start to question the validity of that statement: "How can I matter so much when there are so many others? What makes me significant? I can't create big change all by myself..." I can'tâ€¦ I can't... I can't. That defeatist attitude sets in, and all of a sudden, Ms. High and Mighty doesn't seem so tough. And if you really think about it, its almost convincing that creating change isn't as simple as changing our minds. Well, I'm here to tell you that if you were to think about it even further, you'll find that this just isn't true. We've got to quit stopping ourselves before we even start. Change always begins with one person; no matter how successful or not so. There's a great quote from Ghandi that I's never really grasped until recently, and he says "Be the change you want to see in the world." Like the movement of one H2O molecule that eventually triggers a larger ripple in a pond, each person has the power to ignite any change. Sure, it takes a lot of dedication, a lot of awareness, and a lot of determination. But one person influences another, and those two can influence four more, and so on... it's just that simple. We've got to say what we mean, and do what we say; we have to practice, practice, literally practice what we preach. We have to live at the highest standard we wish our brethren to be a part of; set examples of peace, and unity and respect; we have to listen to each other and remain compassionate, constantly encouraging ourselves and our neighbors that we have it in us; we have to remind ourselves that we are powerful beings. It is in our capability. The only thing that can really stop you is your decision to give up; your decision to stop trying. Now, I don't mean you can jump in front of a speeding train and stop it dead in it's tracks with only the power of your mind, and some handy laser vision only to see it explode in a fantastic Hollywood-like display of action—like Superman has his kryptonite, capabilities have their limits. Rather, I mean that there are several, several things that are in your control. Some people say "I can't quit smoking," I say you can. Some people say "I can't get straight A's," I say you can. Some people say "I can't change the world," I say you can—we just have to change our minds and make those decisions. Change catches like a cold. Like I said, we're not alone; we have each other. One of the greater things we learned from Abraham Lincoln during his time in history was that, "A house divided can not stand," and in his time in history, Dr. King set out to unite our house; to remind us that not only can we do great things individually, but that when we put our powers together, we can achieve excellence.
Over the winter break, my mother took my sister and I out to see a movie. We decided on The Day the Earth Stood Still, for several reasons, none that are relevant to our conversation today; and in it, there was this fantastic line: "At the precipice, we change."
Several recent events in our nation's timeline have made it clearer than ever that change is required of us. President Barack Obama has called on us to remember that in these desperate times, united we stand, and without the whole crew aboard, we can hardly get going. He's urged us to remember our power—individually and in numbers. He's calling on us to remember that we affect everything around us—for like I cleverly realized, we're not alone.
At this point, I can only hope that I've succeeded in conveying my message to you; and that is that I believe in the human race; I've seen something twinkling in our eyes; something amazing about you, me, and us. And my faith in the human race isn't entirely blind; others before me have seen it: from the forefathers of this country; to JFK and MLK; to the current President of the United States of America.
The time is now to realize that we, ladies and gentlemen, we are a part of a much larger, deeply unified whole, and that we too can change the world.
All it takes is a little bit of mindfulness. Thank You.
Jennice C. Ontiveros — Third Place Winner
January 29, 2009
Tonight I am going to ask that you trust me, and that you trust those around you because right now I am going to ask that you close your eyes and keep them closed, and I will do the same. Now, picture your fifth grade classroom. What did it look like? Do you see the walls, the books, the little desks? Picture your classmates, do you see their faces? And your teacher, what was his or her name?
The year was 1998, I was nine years old, my teachers name was Mrs. Miller, and we concentrated on a different subject everyday of the week. We were in fifth grade, and Wednesdays were History.
It's funny how as a child your perception of the world is skewed to your lack of experience, knowledge, and ability to understand the true meaning of here and now.
As an elementary school student, I somehow convinced myself that war was an outdated term. After reading about the Civil War, the World Wars, and so on, I could only comprehend that these dates were in the past, and that the world, or at least the United States, was at peace. I was sure of this idea, and felt secure in my blissful ignorance. Of course, that was easy; there was seemingly nothing at my finger-tips. I had never seen a riot, been exposed to soldiers preparing for battle, or seen terrorism in my homeland. At least, not yet.
The truth is that our history is rich, filled with its share of setbacks and successes, we have often come together to change its course.
The year 1610: Virginia adopts "sodomy laws" making sex between two men a "capital crime" punishable by death.
1619 The First African slaves arrive in Virginia.
1777 All states take away women’s right to vote.
Although these events preceded the civil war, they targeted three minorities that would eventually rise up in their own civil rights movements.
1865 to 1920 The 13th, 15th, and 19th Amendments are ratified, banning slavery, granting African Americans the right to vote, and lastly- granting all women the right to vote.
1942 On the brink of WWII and in the years following, the U.S. military discharges approximately 100,000 soldiers for admitting to homosexuality, whether or not they had ever acted on such desires.
In the same decade President Truman orders the US Military to be integrated.
Do you see the inconsistencies?
1953 In an order equating homosexuals to drug addicts and criminals, President Eisenhower bans employment of gays in the federal government. 12 years later it is repealed.
1963 African American Gay Rights Activist Bayard Rustin organizes the March on Washington where Dr. King delivers his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.
1964 Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.
1973: The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from it list of "illnesses."
1981: AIDS gains media attention, and is labeled the "gay cancer."
Then, in the 1990's, a time relative to all Whittier students:
President Clinton signs the "don’t ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy in response to gays in the military.
And in the latter half of the decade,
Title Nine requires that college athletics programs must involve equal numbers of men and women to qualify for federal support. Matthew Shepard is murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in a hate crime motivated by homophobia. But just a year later, President Bill Clinton declares the month of June "Gay Pride Month."
2008:The United States experiences the culmination of three civil rights campaigns, and the state of California witnesses one of the most historical election ballots it has ever seen. Citizens are given the opportunity to vote for a female vice president, a black president, and to drastically alter the lives of those identifying as Gay Lesbian Bisexual or Transgender. While the results yield a dream realized for the African American civil rights movement, the U.S. also sees G.L.B.T. community's right to marry taken away.
History is no longer a 5th grade lesson learned on a Wednesday afternoon, but a movement that speaks for itself. It is driven by the people of its time, and now, we are those people. Our generation has great responsibilities at hand, including the rights for our fellow citizens. Now is the time to recall that Dr. King’s dream was and still is an all inclusive ideal that embraces those fighting for their denied rights. Today, those people are the members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender community.
Whether you identify as G.L.B.T., or as an ally of those who may be your friends, family, co-workers, classmates, roommates, or just your cashier at the local Ralphs, know that you are an ally of human civility, and those rights Dr. King peacefully fought for in this war against one another. The time is now, the place is here. We must stand up for one another and know that Dr. King’s dream can be reality. Rise above those fifth grade ideals; ignorance is not bliss. Move on from the stagnation of toleration and into the progression of acceptance. If I am able to embrace, not tolerate, but embrace that you are a human being; knowing that I am too am human, I will stand up for your rights. And I will fight for you because if you do not have rights, neither can I; for we are equals.
In 2008 Proposition 8 was passed and same sex marriage was banned in the state of California. In 1850, anti-miscegenation laws were passed forbidding Whites to marry Blacks, Asians, and Filipinos. They were not repealed until 1948. If we follow this timeline, the GLBT community will not see equal rights until 2106, 98 years from now. I believe that we cannot wait that long. The G.L.B.T. community cannot wait that long. I believe that the time is now and that we must not let history repeat itself. I believe that our president of the United States of America: Barak Hussein Obama would agree because just over a week ago in his inaugural address he reminded us that, "The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."