Editor’s note: For the 39th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Contest, local students responded to the theme, “We Must Speak” from Dr. King’s address, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence” given at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967.
‘If you have ever spoken out, you know that it makes you feel powerful’
Jasper Goochey is in the third grade at Trowbridge Street School of Great Lakes Studies.
When we speak out, we show our power, our grace and our love. Speaking out makes people listen even if they may or may not agree with what you are saying. If you have ever spoken out, you know that it makes you feel powerful.
Speaking out isn’t just for big things. I speak out in class all the time. Speaking out is effective but at times it takes a while for your voice to be recognized.
My mom and dad’s friend Mark spoke out about LGBTQ justice. It wasn’t done in the correct manner. Mark had to face the consequences and was arrested!
Sometimes speaking out can be scary. It makes you feel big but also very small, because you don’t always feel heard.
How can we speak out? Dr. King spoke out about rights for everyone, no matter what color, race or background they were. He was arrested and beaten many times. However, every time he regained his freedom, he got stronger and kept speaking out.
You have to remember that speaking out usually takes time.
When speaking out there are a few things to keep in mind. Keep going and never give up. You can do this! As Dr. King states, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
These words stick with me when I feel the need to SPEAK OUT!
‘We need to lift each other up as positive role models’
Aaliyah Cooper Durant is in the fifth grade at Samuel Clemens School.
Have you stopped to think about the power of your voice? Not just the sound that it makes, but the power of your voice to move within you and give you the confidence to speak up.
Now more than ever, Dr. King calls us to “speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.” I believe connecting the power of our voice with action will bring positive change to a world that needs us!
I envision a world where we use the power of our voices to talk about our problems instead of ignoring them. Sit down with people who you think are your “enemies” so that you can really understand each other. Hate happens when we don’t know each other! Now is the time to be more open minded and accepting instead of using our voices to divide people.
I call on lawmakers to act with integrity and use their voices to make laws that are fair and equal for every person, no matter who they are. Keep marching, protesting and speaking out against injustice. Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When you see something wrong, stand up, and speak up!
Speak up against cruelty. Say “No!” to people who pick up guns and kill because they believe they can. Say “Enough!” to bullies who use their cruel words to hurt. Speak out against rules that separate people according to race and ignorance. We must unite to speak out against war instead of fighting violently for world peace!
I envision a world where we use the power of our voice to build each other up. Speak with kindness and respect. Help students develop their growth mindsets so that what they say to themselves is just as important as what they say to other people! We need to lift each other up as positive role models.
Now is the time to speak up because later will be too late. Speak up and make a difference today.
The time is now, and the time is right to take our place as future leaders!
‘Speaking up can change the world forever’
Eleanor Lawton is in the sixth grade at Milwaukee Parkside School for the Arts.
It is very important to speak up for what you believe in. You are helping many people without even knowing it. You are standing up for yourself and others who may not be able to. When you give up on something like this, what you want to change may not be possible.
If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t fight for what he believed in, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Standing up for people or something you believe in is a great act of kindness and shows that you care about that person or idea. Speaking up can change the world forever.
You can support what you believe in through many different forms of art, including writing, painting and more. Speaking up about things that you think are wrong, unfair or anything else is important. Dr. King is someone who stood up for what he believed in and made a big impact on the world. What he meant by “breaking the silence” is that he wanted people to talk about issues like racism and put an end to it.
If nobody put an end to injustices like racism it would just keep on happening. When Dr. King was alive, he had to deal with racism by being physically attacked, threatened, called names and more. He and many others fought for things like this to be put to a close.
Dr. King would be surprised, shocked and disappointed if he saw what was going on today. We are back to where we used to be. It’s like a fire; it becomes smaller if we keep throwing buckets of water at it, but it will become worse as soon as we stop.
We have to stop racism forever. We have to speak up.
The line “a vocation of agony” means that you have to give up or risk something sometimes to change something. You need to be prepared to risk your job, financial state, family, life or something else.
If Dr. King was still alive, he would want to see people following in his footsteps. He would want people to take risks so that racism is stopped for good.
The world would be a much better place if racism were gone forever.
‘Now that I have my voice, I have no plans of losing it’
Victoria Kona is in the eighth grade at Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language.
Dr. Martin Luther Jr. is a model of love and kindness, and most importantly, change for everyone. Over the past 38 years, his many testimonies, speeches and protests have resonated with the world. Still, today, we need to follow in his example and speak up for ourselves and our future.
As an immigrant to the United States and an English language learner, I know how hard it can be to speak up. I felt scared to answer a question at school. I felt like I didn’t deserve to talk in class. I felt like I wasn’t smart enough; like it wasn’t my place to share my opinions. I felt like an outsider.
I always liked math class and I always wanted to answer questions that the teacher posed. However, I would never let my thoughts leave my mind. I felt intimidated, less-than and never sure how to advocate for myself.
When COVID-19 arose, though it is a terrible virus and has haunted many families, all of our classes went online. In the comfort of my home, with my Chromebook in hand, I began to participate more in my classes. It was as if the 10 years that I kept my mouth shut in school were seeping out of me. I was not afraid to speak my mind. I believe some of it was due to having my Chromebook as a shield; some of it was growing up and learning how to love myself.
Though COVID-19 ruined lots of things, the positive in it all for me was finding my voice. I brought that same voice back with me when we returned in person. I am speaking up, voicing my opinion and contributing to conversations confidently. I feel more comfortable speaking, but I still have this little fear unmoving deep inside me.
However, I have learned and recognized the importance of speaking up and out. Not only has it helped me socially, but it has helped me develop my own self-confidence and love.
Throughout my experiences, it has led me to understand a quote from DaShanne Stokes that states, “only by speaking out can we create lasting changes.”
I believe that people feel hesitant to speak up because they are scared of being judged. However, it cripples innovation, change and love. I know this because I felt that fear. It took me quite a long time to develop my voice. Now that I have it, I have no plans of losing it.
It’s better to face your fears than let your fears control your life, just as Dr. King portrayed.
‘Our voices will unite with the rhythm of equality’
Jesabelle Cruz is in the ninth grade at Milwaukee High School of the Arts.
We must speak. This is our right as human beings of this century. It is our right to speak our truth and speak with freedom.
We have lost our beloved ones for years upon years, and we have wept in silence. When we cry in silence and scream in agony, our nation has failed us. Our nation has failed to give us the justice we deserve, and we ought to feel shame as a country for we have failed our youth.
When change occurs and we open our arms against the silence of the night, society will notice thousands of voices singing in harmony. Our voices will unite with the rhythm of equality.
I remember when I was 9 years old and the song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” came out. Bike riders flooded Milwaukee streets blasting music, and every school festival played the song along with “Raining Tacos.” 2015-’16 was a happy time with happy people, and I never felt so accepted. Accepted with other females, accepted with other Hispanics, accepted with other kids.
I did not feel one inch of discrimination for anything, but then again, I have it easy. I have pale white skin and I barely speak Spanish. I have been called whitewashed so many times, yet every time I felt otherwise. I had all the qualities an American needed to survive, and I took it for granted.
I wished I had blond hair and blue eyes because that’s what I was told I needed to be beautiful. From the Barbies I played with and the supermodels I watched on kid TV shows, this notion of beauty was reinforced. When I got lighter skin from never going out and blondish hair, I didn’t feel like I blended in with family and relatives as I used to, and I was back to square one. Square one of not knowing where I belong.
My mother told me something that stood out for me a while afterward. She told me that people with straight hair wanted curly, people with curly hair wanted straight, skinny people wanted to gain weight and chubby people wanted to be slim. She told me that no matter what, we always found ways to want to change things about ourselves.
That’s when I realized how perfect I was without changing my appearance or my accent. I am perfect the way that I am. I wish everyone could see that. I wish everyone could see how amazing they are without changing themselves. I wish everyone had courage to speak their truth, but it all starts with one person.
All it takes is one person to speak up for others. It takes one person to make a difference for others to follow. When we speak, we will all speak. We will speak with integrity and courage. We will speak even when we’re silent.
No matter what, we will speak.
‘If we don’t do anything about the issue, we are part of the problem’
Jayda Lee is in the 11th grade at Riverside University High School.
“You got this Jayda,” is what I tell myself every day because of how hard school and work can be.
The society I live in is not perfect, and I have detected complications in our education system. Our society makes it almost impossible to work over 40 hours a week and still attend to young adults’ and children’s emotional needs. Likewise, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew there were going to be struggles “for a new world” in which we hope for everyone to speak up about their needs and problems so we can each improve to make the world a better place.
In other words, we must consider our knowledge and our opportunities. We must speak up about how we can enhance our education system, just as Dr. King strengthened and spoke up for the weak during his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. We must speak up so we don’t misinterpret words and isolate ourselves.
I believe that we need to include our family in our education. Family is most important in an education system because they support you and love you unconditionally. Nonetheless, we need our parents to know how much the education system has changed. We need their attention and we need their love because this system has made students overwhelmed and feeling alone. Furthermore, parents who are not involved in their kids’ education and who don’t understand where students are coming from only make them feel more forsaken. It’ll cause students to have stressful nights and have mental breakdowns.
Lately, I’ve experienced these mental breakdowns because of school assignments and work that have been consuming my time and causing aches. I have spoken up for myself and informed my parents about my mental health.
Since I have been feeling suppressed and drained about how strenuous it is, my dad says, “It is all the same.” He means that the education system now is the same as when he was in school, but he is wrong. There’s some truth to what we both believe. Yes, school has gotten more rigorous and difficult, but the focus on grades over growth still remains.
Apart from this, I spoke up to ensure that he understood that school right now is too extravagant. I must speak up because my parents should put in more effort to help solve this problem by insisting that their kids want to go to school, to be independent and to try new things. At the local level, we can address this by providing activities for them to come together and prioritize their education.
It should be noted that Dr. King has helped me gain my confidence. He says, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” I believe Dr. King means we should speak up because if we don’t do anything about the issue, we are part of the problem. We aren’t benefiting the world and we aren’t being heard, so I wanted to be heard. Indeed, we must speak up and take initiative and not let others bring us down.
Have you stayed unexpressed or shattered the silence?
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