Students embrace MLK’s message

Camille Nguyen and Fatima Sallah are way too young to remember.

As teens, their knowledge of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. comes from history classes, books and vintage news footage.

On Aug. 28, it will have been 50 years since King stood at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and told a quarter-million people: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

A half-century after the “I Have a Dream” speech, Nguyen, Sallah and others used their own words to connect King’s message with life in our community today.

Nguyen, a 17-year-old senior at Kamiak High School, and Sallah, 15, a Mariner High School sophomore, are among winners of the 2013 Prodigies for Peace essay, video and art contest, part of Wednesday’s local Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. Nguyen’s essay won first place and Sallah’s took second in the annual contest.

City of Everett spokeswoman Kate Reardon said there were 100 essay entries from students and adults, and 27 entries in the art category. Entries were judged by a small panels, with Beth Lucas managing essay judging, and the art contest judged by Reardon, Elizabeth Smith and Lindsey Brandt.

Winners will be recognized during a reception at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Everett’s Carl Gipson Senior Center. Today’s Diversity Partnering Reception is hosted by the city of Everett, YMCA of Snohomish County, Snohomish County government and United Way of Snohomish County.

“What the leaders of our agencies are trying to do with this annual celebration is keep the dream alive,” Reardon said Tuesday. For earlier generations, she said, King was either alive during their lifetimes, or the Civil Rights Movement he championed was a very current event.

“For the kids today, he is a figure in a history book,” Reardon said.

Nguyen and Sallah approached the subject from different points of view.

Sallah’s family moved to the United States when she was 5 from the West African country of Gambia. Her essay is a call to continue King’s movement “to bring equality to all our citizens.”

“We do understand that there still is prejudice and inequality, though masked to a certain degree, not only towards African-Americans, but to all minorities,” the Everett girl wrote.

She said Monday she is disheartened by some portrayals of African-Americans on television, particularly on reality TV shows. “As a young black woman, what I see on television — people who look like me — is really negative,” she said.

She wrote of reading racial slurs on Twitter after President Barack Obama’s re-election in November. To continue King’s movement, Sallah wrote, “we need to change something within ourselves.”

“Change begins with you,” Sallah said in her essay.

Nguyen’s winning piece is about the Martin Luther King assembly she helped plan as a member of Kamiak High School’s Multi-Cultural Club. The assembly is scheduled for Thursday, but Nguyen wrote in the present tense — “how I envisioned it will be,” the Mukilteo teen said Monday.

“The club wanted to do more than give a lecture about Dr. King’s struggles and history. We decided to share the love of cultural performances,” Nguyen said.

Thursday’s school assembly will include a Vietnamese dance, a Korean dance, a Pakistani dance and a marimba music group. Another club will make a presentation about bullying.

Nguyen, whose ancestry is Vietnamese, will dance both in the Vietnamese dance and in a Korean dance.

“It kind of shows how King’s fight allowed us to all be together in one wonderful place,” Nguyen said. “We wanted students to interact in the assembly, to make them feel they’re connected.”

They come from different schools and different cultures, but Nguyen and Sallah have a dream in common.

“I want to study pre-med to be a pediatrician, hopefully, and help kids,” Nguyen said. And Sallah, who learned about the essay contest from a teacher in her MESA class — that’s math, engineering, science advancement — also hopes to be a doctor. “I really want to be a family physician,” she said.

Nguyen’s essay said school is a great example of King’s vision.

“We are challenged to intermix with other students and to grow up with them. We’re all different like parts of a puzzle,” she wrote. “Each person is a puzzle piece and is unique. When each piece comes together, we fit as a whole to make a grand picture.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

MLK celebration

Winners of the 2013 Prodigies for Peace essay, video and art contest will be recognized at a free reception 4-6 p.m. Wednesday at the Carl Gipson Senior Center, 3025 Lombard Ave., Everett. The Diversity Partnering Reception is an annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. Reservations needed; RSVP at: 425-257-8751.

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