"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
That famous quote from the civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize recipient stands as a challenge to mankind to never ignore injustice. Yet discrimination, oppression and intolerance flourish still.
Witness the recent deplorable scene at a Donald Trump campaign rally in which the crowd displayed the attributes of an angry mob in shouting out at a defenseless and peaceful woman dressed in her Islamic wardrobe, forcing her withdrawal from the building. Were he here today, King would not have been silent that day. Yet the crowd showed no shame, and Trump remained silent on something that mattered.
Manatee County students who entered the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Essay & Speech Contest spoke out eloquently and forcefully in their interpretations of this King quote, which served as the competition's theme. Their presentations at the Jan. 7 finals at the Palmetto Youth Center, the contest's sponsor, provided an evening of inspiration from the next generation.
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Congratulations to Tyrese Galloway, the high school winner from State College of Florida Collegiate School, and to Sully Maley, the middle school victor from Nolan Middle School. Their written entries, published here, only hint of the oratory coming from both as well as other students last Thursday.
Bridging America's racial divide remains a work in progress despite decades of civil rights achievements and high hopes after the 2008 election of the nation's first black president, Barak Obama.
King, the undisputed champion of nonviolent resistance to social inequities in order to compel change, would no doubt be proud of the recent peaceful protests across the nation to confront and fight racism. Still, black youth encounter segregation and poverty, racial achievement gaps in education, and a school-to-prison pipeline across America. Activism that follows King's legacy is essential to advance change.
And today's youth must carry the movement forward. Our MLK essayists demonstrate they are up to the challenge.
King's mastery of inspirational language starts with this famous 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech. These statements certainly reflect the power of his rhetoric:
"The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges."
"Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."
"We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts."
"We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence."
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
"The time is always right to do what is right."
"Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness."
"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
As America celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, let us pledge to speak up on all things that matter.