From The News-Gazette's Black History Month 2013 section, published Feb. 10, 2013.
Every year, the University of Illinois sponsors a celebration in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Provost and the Office of Public Engagement.
Additionally, the College of Education's Center for Education in Small Urban Communities holds the annual MLK Writing Contest.
This year marked the 11th annual contest, and the theme for 2013 was "The Beloved Community: From Emancipation to Unity." Students were asked to consider the questions:
— What does freedom mean to you in today's world?
— What does freedom mean in your local community? In the country? In the world?
— What barriers still exist that prevent people from being free?
— What can we do as individuals or as a community to break down those barriers?
Students were asked to create a piece of work that showed their ideas of what freedom is, what barriers still remain and how we can take action to break down those barriers.
More than 200 thoughtful and creative submissions from area schools were offered in the form of essays, poems, artwork, videos and multimedia presentations.
Of those, 39 students received honorable mention for their submissions and 28 winners were selected for individual and group submissions.
The results — and excerpts from some of the written works:
Elementary school division winners
Gage Brown, Stratton Elementary School, "Freedom":
What Freedom Means to Me: Having the Rights to Do What We Want to Do; To Not Be Judged By the Color of our Skin; To Not Be Judged By What We Believe.
Maria Heller, Stratton Elementary School, "Social Injustice":
Even though we are in the 21st century, social injustice is still felt everywhere. We should respect one another no matter what the color of our skin is, no matter what each other's beliefs and accept each other's faults. We should try and understand each other. We should be kind to each other.
Charles Hong, Booker T. Washington Elementary School, "MLK Freedom Essay":
The barriers that stand against my freedom are bullies, sometimes adults, older siblings, strangers and the power of words itself. Bullies prevent my freedom by stealing things and getting me into fights. My parents don't give me freedom since they want to protect me. The power of words itself can prevent my freedom.
Keondra Howell, Booker T. Washington Elementary School, "Martin Luther King Essay":
What freedom means to the community — it means for everyone to come together to be united as one. To give instead of receive. To help out with others who are able to do as much as we do. To love each other instead of hating each other. To have peace.
Angelynn Huang, Garden Hills Elementary School, "Freedom to Me":
So when I think about the times in American history when we weren't free, I am thinking, being free to me also means there's no one controlling you against your will. You are allowed to choose where you want to go. It means that you can do what you want to do and follow your own path, and believe in your own dreams.
Kayla Israel, Booker T. Washington Elementary School, "Religious Freedom":
No matter what your religion, you should be proud, and nobody should stop you. Even if people are being evil and mean, it shouldn't lower your confidence. Nobody should persecute you just because of your religion, but they do. That's why governments and people try to protect religious freedom. Freedom of religion is so necessary it could be considered something you can't live without.
Mayahuel Gutierrez Malik, Stratton Elementary School, "Equal Pay for Women":
A beloved community means fair wages no matter what gender. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation. I think this is not what a beloved community looks like. I personally think we can change that, even though it might take a lot of effort it will be worth it.
Kenneth Minovici, King Elementary School, "Reporter for a Week":
Freedom means doing what you want to do without breaking the law, but many people broke the law. Even now, people are not getting along. Some barriers can be heartbreaking, others can be peaceful. In my interviews, people said we should not fight and be violent.
Gloria Park, Stratton Elementary School, "MLK Essay":
What freedom means and does not mean to me? Freedom means: I can achieve and obtain all things. ... I can express what or whom I like and what or whom I do not like; I can share my religious beliefs with others. However, freedom does not mean I can take other people's belongings or property dislike other people based on their skin color or disability (or) judge or criticize other's religious views.
Grace Song, Stratton Elementary School, "Freedom of Expression":
Voting: A way of expression: Citizens can express their opinions, beliefs, and preferences; voting lets everyone's voice be heard, elected leaders will guide the country, based on the results of people's opinions; voting helps shape the future of your community.
Middle school division winners
Vincent Beard, Eater Junior High, "Freedom":
No matter your definition of freedom, there are always many factors that go into and make it up. Whether it's the ability to overcome adversity, dealing with a bully, police brutality or even the bias of random people, freedom is a very three-dimensional thing. By overcoming these obstacles for yourself or a group of people, any person or people can be free.
Bailee Bui, Jefferson Middle School, for her drawing, "Honor MLK"
Sean Crowley, Eater Junior High, "Freedom"
Jasmine Dandridge, Jefferson Middle School, "Look at Me":
Step into the mirror
Look into the soul
Open your wings and fly out of the dark hole
Find light for you and growth for me
Then and only then my life will be free.
Jared Jordhal, Eater Junior High School, "Freedom"
Jane Liao, Campus Middle School, "Freedom":
There's not a set of rules that indicates
A certain way of people and their fates.
Cos' everyone is different and can see
Their true self: who they really ought to be.
Haemin Mun, Jefferson Middle School, "Haemin Mun"
Emily Roth, Campus Middle School, for her artistic submission, "Emancipation to Unity"
Dylan Somers, Edison Middle School, "My Flag Means Freedom":
Freedom is a privilege to be free but still with little rules to keep you smart, learning, active, happy, and free. Free is your right to be you.
High school division winners
The African American Club from Urbana High School for the collage "Mountain Top"
Francisco Barrios, Urbana High School, "Undocumented Youth in America":
(S)ome undocumented youth want to be the first in their families to go on and graduate from college and get a better career than what their parents have. For the undocumented youth, college is their way to get the voice across America to tell people that not all undocumented people are gangbangers or troublemakers. That many of them are hard workers, and want a better life for the next generation of Americans. However, without the freedom to access higher education, due to these students' "status," they are never given the opportunity to prove to themselves, or society, their capabilities.
Camesha Braddy, READY Program, "MLK Drawing"
Derrion Herman, Centennial High School, "What Freedom Means to Me":
The main barrier that prevents people from being free is, in fact, judgment. Everyday people are judged by the way they look, the way they dress, what music they listen to, what problems they face, and even by the color of their skin. No one in this world is perfect. When we see someone being treated unfair or being judged, instead of just watching we should take action and stand up for those who aren't able to defend themselves.
Njabulo Hlongwa, Urbana High School, "Internal Freedom"
William Pritchard, Urbana High School, "Equal Education":
Whether it be a local problem within the United States or relating a problem to the entire world, everyone is entitled to an education. It is a right, not a privilege. We, as a country, need to assure that all schools receive equal funding, and to provide more to the schools that cannot provide for themselves.
Brittany Rhed, Urbana High School, "Faces of the Suppressed"
Carlos Rodriguez, Urbana High School, "A Shot at Equality":
The women in our community are one of the few remaining groups in our nation that still do not have full freedom. They suffer from gender discrimination just about everywhere. The Equal Rights Amendment that would end so much discrimination is far from being ratified, and at this point might even be considered a dead amendment.
Jazmin Tweedle, University Laboratory High School, "Freedom"
Elementary school division honorable mention
Shivang Bhaskar, Booker T. Washington Elementary School, "MLK Essay"
Lihi Catriel, Stratton Elementary School, "A Beloved Community"
Navina Mylarassu, Booker T. Washington Elementary School, "Endangered Species"
Dayoung Nam, Stratton Elementary School, "Homeless"
Preethi Saravanan, Booker T. Washington Elementary School, "One Fundamental Barrier to Freedom is Religion"
Ethan Simpson-Palmer, Stratton Elementary School, "Towards a More Perfect Union"
Middle school division honorable mention
Ali Fadl-Alla, Jefferson Middle School, "MLK Essay"
Nakyra Chapman, Eater Junior High, "Freedom"
Kaitlin Ellis, Jefferson Middle School, "MLK Poem"
Jessy Garrison, Eater Junior High, "Freedom"
Mars Kim, Campus Middle School,"Small Thoughts"
Gwyneth Krepcio, Campus Middle School, "Spectrum of Acceptance"
Samone Pierson, Jefferson Middle School, "We Are Freedom Fighters!"
Jordan Richardson, Eater Junior High, "Freedom"
Perla Rodriguez, Eater Junior High, "Freedom"
Corbin Russell, Eater Junior High, "Freedom"
Bailee Schweighart, Jefferson Middle School, "Freedom"
Nick Sizemore, Eater Junior High, "Freedom"
Demarius Smith-Terhune, Eater Junior High, "Freedom"
Ruth Sussman, Campus Middle School,"How Much Further Do We Have to Go?"
Rachel Turner, Eater Junior High, "Freedom"
Natalie Vaughan, Eater Junior High, "Freedom"
High school division honorable mention
Alyssa Brown, Urbana High School, "The Rights of Undocumented Workers"
Rashawnda Brown, Urbana High School, "Convicted Felons"
Anisha Coleman, Urbana High School, "Voting Suppression"
Kiara Fleming, Urbana High School, "MLK"
Tiara Ivy, Urbana High School, "Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Contest"
Jialu Li, Urbana High School, "Undocumented Immigrants' Dream of Real Freedom"
Pearl Madela, Urbana High School, "Freedom for All?"
Patricia Mixon, Urbana High School, "Disability=Denial of Freedom"
Dasha Moore, Urbana High School, "Make A Dream Come True, Let Them Marry"
Eusnik Na, Centennial High School, "Martin Luther King Essay"
Jorjio Neely, Urbana High School, "Racial Inequality in the Criminal Justice System"
William Patterson, Urbana High School, "Youth Expression, Creativity and Freedom through Hip-Hop"
Brittany Pirie, Urbana High School, "Financial Frustrations"
Tori Real, Metro Academic and Classical High School, "His Dream Lives On"
Kathleen Sampson, Urbana High School, "Undocumented Citizens"
Kaleb Smith, Urbana High School, "Life in Jail"
Alexis Valdez, Urbana High School, "Same Sex Marriage"