The University of Utah’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Leadership Awards honors outstanding students from across the State of Utah, grades 7 through 12, for their dedication to the beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through community service and leadership. Each Awardee is honored during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Week (MLK Week) held at the University of Utah. To address this year’s MLK Week theme, “Becoming the Beloved Community,” the Youth Leadership Award selection committee requested students to address the following prompt in their application:
A community is a group of people who are responsible to each other and support one another through activities that build on common interests while maintaining respect for community members’ unique differences. Have you seen people or groups of people excluded or not included in your communities? What could your communities do to be more welcoming and inclusive of all people?
Each 2022 Youth Leadership Award recipient submitted shining examples of their embodiment of the “beloved community” and advice on how we can honor Dr. King’s vision. Explore excerpts of what they submitted below!
“Until recently, I never knew of the importance of a complete history in my community because any discussion of Black history was as sparse as the number of Black people who attend my school. I now notice that when intertwined histories are taught as separate subjects, we also view people of different backgrounds as separate from ourselves. By now, I know that Black history is not optional. Not only is it a part of who I am, who Black people are, but who we are in our communities. I believe in the importance of continuing to push for inclusive curricula because understanding the histories of people around us will bring us closer together and inspire a more widespread mindset of understanding and empathy. I believe that what once made me feel alone— what has made Black people be alone in their own communities— is what can close the gap between ourselves and others.”
“The most important thing to do to eliminate the problem of exclusion is to create an environment of friendship, get to know others, reach out to include new people in your “circle”, and not judge others. If we all could have an open mind when meeting others or reach out to those we don’t know or understand there would be more positivity in the world and we can influence those around us for good. We all want to feel like we matter, whether we are new to a school, new in a state, or already live there, are involved in a sport, club or activity, or not involved at all. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” I try to make others feel that they matter daily.”
“Having faced discrimination, I can understand how other people feel when it happens to them. In my community, I have spoken out against discrimination and I want to continue to promote diversity and inclusion…My role in [Planned Parenthood’s] Teen Coucil has allowed me to advocate for other kids like myself, kids who have been marginalized or have been victims of injustice…Teen Council has given me the proper platform to reach out to other kids and teenagers in my community and talk about the problems concerning our generation in hopes of influencing them to make changes as well.
“In collaboration with other Black students and one of my teachers, we are in the process of creating a Black Student Union (BSU) at my new school. With the black student union, I aspire to make a more inclusive environment for other students of color, a place to advocate for other black students within our community, and have the platform to educate students within our school on race-related topics.”
“To truly open our arms to the people who we ourselves have undoubtedly failed due to our inaction, we must become better people. Accomplishing such a task can be helped by giving up the expectation of perfect interactions with people. It must be broken. Not every instance of talking and coexisting with people can lead to cherished moments, but a lot more can be when we allow ourselves to be open to the idea. Awkwardness is a part of life that sometimes we cannot avoid, nor should we. Vulnerability is an excellent tool in strengthening our connections, which means that it is an excellent tool for our communities. Empathy should be practiced in these endeavors; we are all people with feelings and thoughts. Growing in this way is a part of growing into the beloved community.
“As a member of the African American community, there are a lot of people that are excluded from my community. An example is the LGBTQIA+ community. When it comes to the African American community, we, as a whole, struggle with accepting those who are gay…One way my community could be more welcoming and inclusive of all people is by accepting that everyone is different and choosing to love them. Showing love and support to those who are different from us, will bring us together as one whole community. One thing I would change to make my community more welcoming is by teaching parents about loving and supporting their children no matter their sexuality. I would teach people how to agree to disagree. You may not agree with what the LGBTQ community does, but you can respect them as human beings.”
“In the beloved community, one of the ways we can all help include those around us is to simply invite them to sit together with your friend group. If they reject the offer, they will appreciate you taking your time to ask them something they never expected anyone to ask…Being part of a community means that sometimes we will be uncomfortable and make sacrifices for other people. Sometimes those sacrifices require us to come out of our comfort zone to talk to people that we don’t know…If we all took the time to talk to someone who is unheard and listen to them, we would understand their perspective and let them know they aren’t alone in this. One of Martin Luther King’s quotes that speaks to me is, ‘Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’ I truly live by this quote because if we treat one person badly or kindly it will create consequences amongst others.”
Rosa Sanchez Garcia
“One of the many things my parents have always taught me and keep teaching me to this day is to always stay connected with my culture and to always remember where I come from. The reason I say this is because one of the many problems I have noticed in my community is racism. This is a very sensitive topic but it isn’t just going on in my community but it is one of the biggest problems in the world. The reason why I think racism is a big problem is that no one wants to talk or does something about it.
“If I had to suggest a way we should stop this problem in my community and worldwide would be that everyone should stop having biases and stop criticizing each other but everyone is going to have biases and opinions, including myself. But I believe that if there is a way to at least not make this such a huge problem is to be more open-minded with everyone and not criticize anyone but also to keep equal human rights…We all have gone through our own struggles which also means that if one person gets comfort and attention why can’t we all.”
“Nobody can ever really understand how being excluded and feeling unwelcome from society really feels until they experience it themselves…My community and countless other communities could do things such as use more thoughtful language rather than put people down, always consider other people’s feelings, educate people in your community on issues in your society, work with the diverse groups of your community, hold events to bring the people in your community together, donate to fundraisers that may benefit the people in your community. Although we can’t control people and what they say and do we can try to explain the importance of spreading love and not hate.”
“Opening of eyes and minds to take the desperately needed action, that’s where it not only begins but remains is through these actions. So let’s keep fighting stay loud, find pride in your name, and not try to win this game of what fits like a puzzle, because our pieces weren’t made to fit. But take all of those empty pieces and create a portrait of their own uniqueness.
“What I’m saying is, I’m just repping this generation, and this generation isn’t repping anything new: just challenging conformity, the values of our society, the reasons for our inequality and why we haven’t changed yet, the errors of our communication, how we will change, and the actions we take now. The actions that we take now. Now, I think a part of my voice has been heard if only your ears could hear the voice of the many who feel just as or even more, so alone and unheard. But our actions are supposed to speak volumes louder than our words. So let the movements inside of this community continue and let the movements thrive and action finally be taken for our side.”
“I have always been interested in creating a community for African-Americans and other minorities, which is why I decided to become president of the Black Student Union Club in my junior year of high school. I loved the message it gave to my peers because, while it was centered on African-Americans, anyone was allowed to join. It allowed for everyone to become allies. We organized service activities, like donating blood to Red Cross, and car wash fundraisers.”
“There was little representation of Black, Muslim Hijabis in my community. That is why I became a Sunday School teacher at my local mosque. I became a mentor to these young hijabis and showed them that standing out is more than okay. I taught them ways to educate people about their culture and religion. We taught them the importance of listening and understanding others’ stories. To remind me of what I was teaching, I joined Black Student Union. I got to talk to many other minorities and black people. It made me feel less alone.
“Having clubs like Black Student Union and Sunday School helps minorities feel more included. More importantly, having these clubs educates people about different cultures and struggles. It led to more people feeling included since all discrimination comes from ignorance. We need more clubs like these in our community, and I aspire to keep putting my time and effort into these clubs so next generations feel included and supported in their communities.”
“After extensively researching the 2020-21 high school Policy Debate topic about criminal justice reform, I learned about the injustices in the United States’ Criminal and Juvenile justice systems. The Criminal Justice System has affected nearly every aspect of American life, including in our schools, where punitive zero-tolerance policies and racial profiling negatively impact students’ perceptions of schools as safe learning environments. Unfortunately, students of color and low-income students are most affected by zero-tolerance policies in schools.
“To create more inclusive communities, we have an obligation to achieve justice restoratively. We have an obligation to alter our approach to achieving justice keeping in mind that people’s actions are most often a product of their environment. Our goal should be twofold: first, to address the root causes of crime, which are most often related to inequality and a lack of a support system for families in need, and second, to respond to crime in a rehabilitative manner.”