Has Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dream been fulfilled? Most of the middle school students who took on that question during a contest last week don’t think so.
Eleven students from Anson Middle School competed in the school’s Martin Luther King Jr. oratorical contest on Feb. 28 at the Ansonia Theatre. All but one of them felt that while there has been progress towards realizing the hopes of harmony from King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, society has a long way to go to reach total equality.
Stephanie Brown, an eighth-grader and the contest’s first-place winner, said that there are still “parts missing” that keep society from achieving the dream. She said that the “biggest issue” people face is race, and listed police brutality as a top barrier.
“Many children are afraid to go to school because of bullying,” Brown said, adding that jobs asking about an applicant’s race is a problem.
Last year, more than 1,000 people were killed by police, she said, saying that many were unarmed, mentally ill or targeted for their skin color.
Second-place winner NaKayla Robinson, also in eighth grade, said that the dream has been “deferred.”
She said signs that the dream has not yet been reached include some individuals’ nonacceptance of former President Barack Obama as president based on his African-American race. She also said that while schools are desegregated, there is still an imbalance in the classroom.
“I’ve been in school for nine years, and I have not had a black teacher,” Robinson said.
An Tonnu, the third-place winner and a seventh grader, said that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 accomplished a lot of progress, but “we still have some way to go.”
She listed police brutality, school shootings and other violence as key issues.
“I want what we’ve wanted long before these 54 years,” Tonnu said, adding that she yearns for equality for all.
“We need to cooperate, unite as many races and ethnicities, but as one group,” she said.
Seventh-grader Tristan Rivers spoke of the violence and stereotyping black people face.
Iyana Mercado, a seventh-grade student, said that had King’s dream been fulfilled, black men wouldn’t fear getting targeted by police, there would be no riots and African-Americans wouldn’t be afraid of their president.
Abigail Gano, an eighth-grade student, said that the national legalization of gay marriage was an important step forward, but that racially-motivated hate and attacks are signs of areas of stunted progress. She hoped that the dream would be fulfilled, one day.
Laysie Hamilton, an eighth-grade student, also said that King’s dream has not yet been reached, as there is still discrimination, brutality and race-based stereotypes and labels.
Seventh-grader Shmira Dumas pointed to convicted mass murderer Dylan Roof’s shooting of nine African-Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 as an indicator that racism is still a problem, saying that King’s dream will not be fulfilled until racism is no longer an issue.
Chloe Lambert, an eighth-grade student, said that as long as people are judged for the color of their skin, race, gender or sexuality, there will be inequality and a gap between reality and King’s hopes for society.
“We can break the color barrier,” she said. “We can stop judging people because they’re different. We can be better than this.”
Brandon Lambert, an eighth-grade student, also said that the dream has not been fulfilled, citing police shootings of black people as a problem.
“We all have the same rights, but there is still racial division,” he said. He said that America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” can do better.
“Why can’t we just honor that statement and make it the country it was always meant to be?” he asked.
Only one student believed that King’s dream has been fulfilled. Eighth-grader Ja’Mia Bennett said that the election of Obama as the nation’s first black president was a sign of progress, as was the removal of discrimination labels and the increase and decriminalization of interracial relationships. She also said the “rainbow of students” in classrooms that no longer cling to segregation also show that the dream has come true, and that King would be proud of where society is today.
Brown received a $100 gift card as the first-place winner. Robinson received a $50 gift card and Tonnu a $25 gift card. All three received medallions, and all of the competitors were given certificates.
The Anson High School and Anson Middle School Gospel Chorus Clubs performed two selections during the contest, and the Anson Middle School band also played a song. The middle school’s Girl’s Rock Club performed a dance, and the Rev. Derrick Montgomery sang.
Josh McLaurin, the middle school’s principal, said he was pleased with the students.
“Part of the dream was that we’d all work together, and that’s what we’ve seen tonight,” he said.
Sheriff Landric Reid, County Commissioner Vancine Sturdivant, Anson County Board of Elections director Steve Adams, and county school board members Dr. Bobbie Little and Lisa Davis were the contest judges. Danielle Blount was the program coordinator.
Debra Davis, secondary education department chair, provided the closing remarks.
Davis recalled when she first met county schools Superintendent Michael Freeman at the Ansonia Theatre when they were both children going to see a movie with their families. After playing out front together, Freeman went in the front door while Davis’ family went in the back. While Freeman sat downstairs, Davis and her family sat up on the balcony.
Davis, a black woman, said she asked her father why she and Freeman, a white man, went through separate doors and had different seating. Her father simply told her that they had the best seats in the theater.
Later, Davis said her and Freeman’s paths crossed again, and now, they work together serving the county’s students and their families.
“You can be anything you want to be,” she told the young competitors, telling them to fight for equality. “You’re our future. Get a very good education. Take what you’ve done tonight and run with it.”
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.