Martin Luther King essay contest winners announced

A United States postal stamp issued in memory of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. (Courtesy of Flikr user US Embassy New Delhi.)

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s 2021 Martin Luther King essay contest winners have been announced.  139 students submitted essays discussing topics set forth by the Norwalk Public Library management team: educational equity, environmental equity, and racial justice equity.

“Congratulations to all of the students who took the time to submit an essay,” Norwalk Public Library Interim Director Sherelle Harris said.   “I was a little worried that the pandemic might prevent this, but everyone pulled to make it happen.”

“I appreciate the efforts of all those who entered the 2021 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest and to the NAACP and numerous volunteers who helped organize the contest and score the submissions,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.   “Our students are the future leaders in Norwalk and around the globe. They will help bring real change to this world. Congratulations to the nine winners of this year’s essay contest. I encourage everyone to find time to read the impactful words written by our students.”

Here are the winners, with some notable excerpts from their tracts:


Elementary school:

  • First place: Riley Wiggins (3rd grade, Columbus Magnet School)

“Even though segregation is not legal you can clearly see the friction and the lack of energy when it comes time to support people of color. Our school systems receive less money to support our needs, our communities are left with no attention, why can’t we have nice things too?… When can people of color walk the streets without others clinching their purse or calling the cops because of their skin color…It is time to let Dr. King’s words ring loud and clear. If we all came together and worked together this world would be a better place!”


  • Second place: Ariana Brown (5th grade, Kendall College and Career Academy)

“This past year, we as a race and even other races witnessed how people of color are still treated differently from whites. There have been many protests and peaceful marches around the world this year because of how the police have been beating and even killing black people. Though, there were white people that protested and marched back in Dr. King’s time, this time around it was different because some white people felt what people of color have been going through all their lives first hand at these protests because the police started to beat whites as well. …Once we realize a problem exists, that is the first step to take in order to fix it.”


  • Third place: Guadalupe Trejo Reyes (5th grade, Kendall College and Career Academy)

“Another famous quote that I personally love and find inspiring is ‘If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then, walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, by all means, keep moving. Never underestimate the power of a dream.’”


Middle school:

  • First place: Joalys Rosario (6th grade, Roton Middle School)

“My own aspiration is to be an artist, and as a person of color, I want to have my art speak equality…This is the contribution I plan to make to continue MLK’s dream. I want to know if this is the generation that will stop and make everyone understand that we as a race want equal opportunity… I want to believe in myself enough so that others will know that no matter what the color of their skin, they too have a right to feel like they deserve a peaceful, racist free world. That’s what MLK wanted for kids who look like me.”


  • Second place: Shanice Daniels (6th grade, Roton Middle School)

“I believe his famous yet powerful speech has put a huge impact on the way African Americans live today, but with all of that progress we are still far away from the dream…. This is America and we have the freedom other countries don’t and for people to try and take that is very wrong…I want to live in a world where there are no protests because someone was killed because of their skin color and one race is not upset with the next. We are all God’s children and deserve a chance at equal opportunities to love and live freely. That is what Dr. King’s dream means to me.”


  • Third place: Isla Tucker (6th grade, Roton Middle School)

“Martin Luther King’s speech brought attention and awareness to the Civil Rights Movement which had also been going on for a long time. But more importantly, he brought awareness to equality, fairness, and people’s rights. Everyone should have the same rights regardless of the way they look. People should be able to go to the same restaurants, ride the same bus, go to the same bathroom, and get the same education as everyone else despite the color of their skin.”


High school

  • First place: Denali Baker (Norwalk High School, 12th grade)

“Even though King and other civil rights activists helped abolish segregation in all public places, there is still racism and inequity in the world. Martin Luther King gave the American people a blueprint for demanding change in a caring and harmonious society… The legacy of Dr. King is important not only to learn about the man behind the push for racial equality, but to also set an example to students of a peaceful leader who succeeded in achieving his goals through nonviolence…”


  • Second place: Ava Massucco (Brien McMahon High School, 9th grade)

“Equity means fair and that’s all Martin Luther King Jr. wanted…His beliefs of education are used today through how teachers teach and by governments making schooling more accessible for those who cannot afford it…The most important thing Dr. King accomplished during his lifetime was the Civil Rights Act 1964 where segregation was no longer allowed. Martin Luther King is the definition of the word equity as he was the best advocate for the black community. He will always be remembered as an inspiration to stand up for what’s morally right.”


  • Third prize: Joanna Susan Gentle (Norwalk High School, 9th grade)

“About 4 months ago I was walking home from school as I did every day and some person is walking in front of me with headphones and is listening to music. I see a car pull up and some person rolls down their window and says extremely racist and disgusting things to the person in front of me who didn’t even hear the things being said… I think it’s time to ask ourselves this question ‘Have We Changed?’ To whoever is reading this ask yourself this question when you see someone clutch their bag around a person of color for no reason. Ask yourself this question when you see racist hate crimes with your own two eyes in the year 2020 and can’t do anything. And finally, ask yourself this question as you walk down the street or as you get pulled over and not wonder if you will be judged by the color of your skin and not the content of your character.”



Cash prizes were awarded, courtesy of Norwalk Branch NAACP:  First place winners got  $100, second  place $50, and third place $25.   Of the 139 entries submitted, 84 came from elementary school students, 41 from middle schoolers, and 14 from the high schools.  The judging panel consisted of:

  • State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff
  • Alex Knopp, President, Norwalk Public Library Board of Directors
  • James Martinez, Director of School Counseling, Norwalk Public Schools
  • Vicki Oatis, Director of Children’s Services, Norwalk Public Library
  • Norwalk Branch NAACP representatives Rosa Murray, Dr. Lynne Moore, and Shirley Mosby
  • Novelette Peterkin, Chief Executive Director, The Carver Foundation of Norwalk, Inc.


The judges said they were deeply moved by what they read…

  • Reading dozens of student essays left me with a strong feeling of optimism about the future because so many students successfully connected what they had learned about Dr. King’s activism not just to an historical understanding of the civil rights challenges of his time but also to their own personal life aspirations and as well as to their interpretation of current events, such as the recent assault on the U.S. Capitol,” Knopp said.
  • Judging the Martin Luther King, Jr. essay contest was one of the most moving and inspirational acts I’ve participated in as an educator in a very long time,” Martinez said.  “In a time when there is a calling for us to examine our moral compass toward treating humanity more deeply, I had the honor of reading essays written by Norwalk’s most precious commodity, our elementary school students. Dr. King would be so very proud of the influence he has had on our youth after so many decades. I feel so humbled and blessed for the opportunity to judge.”
  • Being involved in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Contest was an amazing and humbling experience,” Oatis said.  “Even at a young age, the kids show a great understanding of this quote by John Lewis:  ‘Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.’ They bring their personal experiences of racial inequities, but also an optimistic hope for a better future. I learned a lot from reading these essays and I was honored to be involved in the contest.”
  • I was both inspired and not surprised by the power and insights our essayists shared with us through this contest,” Peterkin said. “Our youth see and understand the fight Martin Luther King gave his life for, which now engages them. The world just witnessed the same courage and force in Amanda Gorman’s words, someone who found her voice at a very young age. I am proud of and hopeful for this generation of young people.”
  • Participating in the Martin Luther King, Jr. essay contest was such a pleasure,” Duff said.  “I thoroughly enjoyed reading and learning what is on the minds of our students. They wrote eloquently with passion and purpose. I want to thank everyone involved locally and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy for leading this initiative,” he said, referring to Murphy’s annual sponsorship of a state-wide MLK essay contest that provided a model for Norwalk’s event.


(All comments are courtesy of a press release.)

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