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Students reflect on MLK's legacy in a CT essay contest. Here are some of the winners

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is shown leading a group of black children to their newly integrated school in Grenada, Mississippi, escorted by folk singer Joan Baez and two aides, Andy Young (L) and Hosea Williams (next to Baez).
Bettmann Archive
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Getty
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is shown leading a group of black children to their newly integrated school in Grenada, Mississippi, escorted by folk singer Joan Baez and two aides, Andy Young (L) and Hosea Williams (next to Baez).

Over 60 years ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial steps. Today, his vision of America still resonates in young Connecticut residents.

“I think we should all have dreams about what a better world could look like,” said 9-year-old Emma Hadari.

Hadari is one of fifteen winners in a statewide essay contest asking students to reflect on their own goals and King’s legacy. For the last eight years, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy has opened the contest to students in elementary, middle and high school.

Sabrina Guerra, 11, described in their winning essay how King’s work inspires them to bring equality to marginalized people. Guerra is an autistic non-speaker and an advocate for people with disabilities. “Writing about my lived experience is often painful, but the strength of change makers before me propels me onward,” Guerra shared.

Cooper Brown, 12, another 2023 essay winner, sees the holiday as a time for introspection. “MLK Day is really a day to reflect and think about the choices that we've made, the choices that we can make for the future to help inspire change,” Brown said.

In the contest, three submissions are chosen from each of the state’s congressional districts. The 2024 winning essays will be posted online on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Read some of the winning 2023 essays below:


Cooper Brown, 12

Cooper Brown
Joe Amon
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Connecticut Public
12-year-old Cooper Brown. The Avon Middle School 7th grader is a MLK Jr. essay contest winner in Simsbury, Connecticut, Jan. 12, 2024.
Working to make change is like riding a bike. Sometimes you are bruised, but what matters most is to keep pedaling forward.

'My dreams aren't for myself, but for others'

Bombed, battered and bruised he stood, but broken he was not. With wise words of inspiration to change, King said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great of a burden to bear.” He was right. The burden of hate almost broke our bombed, battered, and bruised nation. Our bruise, the hate inflicted on this country, has turned into a scar forever marking our history.

Dr. King had a dream of hope, a dream of change. He inspired people of color to take action, he inspired me. Even from Birmingham jail he tried to inspire action. He inspires me to chase my dreams everyday despite challenges.

I dream of going to Yale, to become a public servant following in the footsteps of King. My dreams aren't for myself, but for others. As a politician, I want to fight for equality and uplift people who are struggling. That's why Dr. King’s mission has deep meaning to me, a kid trying to make a difference. At 9, I became student council president at my elementary school, learning of my election the same day President Biden learned about his.

A year earlier during COVID lockdown, I started my own mission. As a biracial American I wanted to give back to the community like MLK. The mission was to give bikes to kids who might go their whole childhood without a bike. I partnered with a non-profit collecting bikes around the Farmington Valley and organized giveaways in Hartford. Ironically, at the time I didn't know how to ride a two-wheel bike myself.

I started this project to be selfless. Selfless like King, who sacrificed his life to his mission. Working to make change is like riding a bike.

Sometimes you are bruised but what matters most is to keep pedaling forward.


Emma Hadari, 9

Fourth-grader Emma Hadari stands for a portrait outside her home in Windsor, Conn. She was one of fifteen students who won an essay contest hosted by Senator Chris Murphy where students from across the state wrote about how Martin Luther King Jr.'s work is reflected in their lives.
Ryan Caron King
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Connecticut Public
Fourth-grader Emma Hadari stands for a portrait outside her home in Windsor, Conn. She was one of fifteen students who won an essay contest hosted by Senator Chris Murphy where students from across the state wrote about how Martin Luther King Jr.'s work is reflected in their lives.
I have a dream that one day every school will feel safe, with no practice lockdowns, no school shootings, and gun-free neighborhoods with children playing together on every street and park.

'Take his message and keep going'

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tells people in his “I Have a Dream” speech to not judge others by the color of their skin, but to focus on their character. Racism was the focus of Dr. King's speech, but I think that we need to take his message and keep going.

These are some of my dreams: I have a dream that one day this country will hold this truth to be self-evident: that all men AND WOMEN are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on every playground in America, LGBTQ+ kids and straight kids will play together and hold hands on swings. I have a dream that one day every town in the U.S. will be transformed into a safe place for people with mental illness or disabilities.

I have a dream that all children will one day live in a nation where they won’t be judged by how rich or poor they are, but by how honest, kind, and loving they are.

I have a dream that one day boys and girls who come from other countries will be able to join hands with white boys and girls and feel like they really belong.

I have a dream that one day every school will feel safe, with no practice lockdowns, no school shootings, and gun-free neighborhoods with children playing together on every street and park.

I have a dream today.


Sabrina Guerra, 11

Sabina Guera
Provided
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Gavin Guerra
Sabrina Guerra, 11, described in their winning essay how King’s work inspires them to bring equality to marginalized people.
My advocacy is a fire that burns within my damaged yet proud and beautiful soul.

'An inextinguishable flame for justice'

Martin Luther King Jr. aspired to bring peace and equality to oppressed people. I share this dream. I am of a marginalized group fighting for our right to be heard, the right to define ourselves, and the right to belong. I am an autistic non-speaker and I've been subjected to mistreatment and segregation because of prejudice and ignorance. Like MLK Jr., I have an inextinguishable flame for justice.

Ableism is a damaging force in society, destroying souls and sowing division. Ableism looms over America's education system, saturates our medical institutions, and shrouds our media. In my lived experience ableism usurped my right to an equal education.

MLK Jr. made history by a tireless campaign toward progress. He refused his challengers' insistence that he and his people patiently wait for justice. As was right and bold then, our revolution is now. Disabled voices must be amplified over those who have no authority to speak for us, define us, nor deny us access.

On countless occasions my mind has sailed to feats of unyielding courage of Martin Luther King Jr. and his peers. Many stinging, similar offenses and parallel dreams tie my aspirations to their journeys and leadership.

My advocacy is a fire that burns within my damaged yet proud and beautiful soul.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.

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