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National Student Essay Contest - 3rd Place (Grades 10 - 12)

Somer Strothers
Wheeling Park High School
Wheeling, WV

Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech and the movie A Time To Kill, both had inspired me to write this paper about my personal experience with racial discrimination. The movie demonstrated how unjust, cruel, and abusive people can be, while Dr. Martin Luther King's speech has given me the courage to accept diversity and the knowledge to understand others that are different from me.

I had come from a Catholic school which had a population of ninety-three people K-8. So, converting to a building with two-thousand students made me very nervous and overwhelmed. I met several new friends, all of different ethnic backgrounds. School was going wonderfully.

On March 18, 1997, I was walking my normal route up the stairwell to class someone shouted "No Coons allowed!" At the time, I had never been called a "Coon"; therefore I didn't know what it meant , or if they were event talking to me so I continued. Next, a tall, slender, blond haired-blue eyed student sporting his Rebel Flag and flannel T-shirt blocked my way and said, "Go back to Africa where you came from Nigger", he then proceeded to spit in my hair. I certainly knew what that meant! I remained calm and tried to think of what my next move would be. I was out numbered and alone, but I still didn't panic until behind the large group of boys stood my "friend" watching everything , and didn't speak a word. My heart was filled with rage and hate. I guess it's true what they say, "Keep your enemies close and watch your friends." But, instead of hating all "Red Necks"or whites, I just lost all respect for those particular ones. Not every Red Neck or white person is as ignorant as the ones I encountered. I had achieved love and respect from my parents and God, so the ugly words of an uneducated bigot failed to crush me.

The Dr. Martin Luther King speech helped me a great deal throughout that situation. Dr. King said, "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred." So, instead of calling the boy name or spitting back at him, I just remembered what Dr. King said and remained on a higher plane of dignity and worked to gain my respect in the proper manner.

In the movie A Time to Kill, a black ten year old girl was kidnaped, hanged, stripped of her clothes, raped, beaten by having full cans of beer thrown at her, urinated on, then dropped off over 30ft into a creek. Her innocence and spirit were shattered in an instance because of hatred and racial bigotry. In turn, her father killed both of the white men who had hurt his daughter. One white attorney took the huge step of defending a black man, but he had to look at the trial through "enemies" eyes in order to gain justice for an innocent man. The attorney asked the jury and court to close their eyes and imagine that the girl was white-and he won the case. This film touched me because one man out of millions stood up openly for the justice of another man outside his own race. One can really make a difference!

However, the real change to help eliminate discrimination starts within ourselves. We cannot build peace and harmony throughout the world in huge sections. Instead, we must take it a piece at a time. Dr. King not only wanted to make a difference for himself, but for others black and white. Once he established that peace within himself, he went on to do other things for the world as a whole. Even though I do not have an incredible speech to give, or the clever mind of an attorney, I can start within my community, and the year 2000 will certainly be the ideal time to start.

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