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2018 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Contest Guidelines


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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution"
In a speech at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, on Oct. 15, 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed, “I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”
At Ohio University Southern, we are inspired by Dr. King and his message above. Our campus’ “I AM…” series provides an opportunity to learn and understand each other. Our stories and experiences are unique and important. By sharing them, we break down barriers that divide us. No matter what labels are assigned to us, and no matter what ideals we may hold, we are all a shared humanity that is, as Dr. King said, “tied to a single garment of destiny.”
WRITE a personal “I Am” essay in which you focus on an aspect of your personality, your cultural heritage, your values, or any aspect of your identity to communicate with others about yourself. Have you ever been stereotyped because you play a musical instrument or a sport? Have you ever been discriminated against because of your gender, race, sexual orientation, or physical abilities? Who are you? Write this essay to help communicate who you are and your unique role in your community.
For full consideration, be sure to follow the guidelines below:

Rules & Guidelines:

1. Entry form must be submitted with the essay.

2. Students may submit only one essay, and it must be the student’s original work.

3. The essay must be typed in Times New Roman font, size 12, double spaced with standard one inch margins,  one side only.

4. The essay must be between 750 and 1000 words (about 3-5 pages).

5. The name, home phone number, parent’s email address, school,grade, and age of student author must be submitted on the entry form,accompanying the essay. Do not place your name or any other identifying information on any other page.

6. All essays are to include references, utilizing at least one book source, but no more than one website source. The sources do not need to be from Dr. King. They can relate to the topic of your essay.

7. Essays may NOT include photographs, images, illustrations, etc.

8. All essays will be judged on the author’s knowledge of the following: Dr. King and his work in the civil rights movement, relevancy to essay theme, originality of ideas and clarity of expression, personal perspective, organization, grammar, and guidelines.

9. All essays submitted become the property of Ohio University Southern and may be displayed on the website, in other university publications, or in locations throughout the community.

10. Children of Ohio University Southern faculty and staff are not eligible.
Prizes will be awarded in two categories; grades 6-8 and 9-12. 
Grades 6th – 8thGrades 9th – 12th
            First Place - $100.00                   First Place - $100.00
            Second Place - $50.00                Second Place - $50.00
            Third Place - $25.00                    Third Place - $25.00
1st, 2nd and 3rd place essays will be published on the OUS website. Along with the cash award students will receive a certificate of achievement, an OU t-shirt, and be invited to attend the Annual Ohio University Southern Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration where students will be publicly recognized for their achievement.
Deadline & Submission
To submit a essay by email: 
  1. In the subject area of the email write the title of your essay
  2. Include in the text of your email the following information (This information serves as your ENTRY FORM for email submissions. Entries will not be read without the following):
  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Essay Title
  • School Grade & Age
  • Street Address, City, State, Zip Code
  • Telephone Number with area code
  • Parent’s Email Address
  • School Name & Teacher’s Email Address
  1. Attach Speech (do not include your name or any of the above information (except title) on your essay).

Registration Deadline: Friday, January 5, 2018 at 5:00pm.  
A confirmation will be sent to the email address listed on the registration form within three business days.
To submit your speech by postal service:
  1. Print and fill in the registration entry form
  2. Attach the registration form to your speech (do not include your name or entry information on your essay)
  3. Mail registration form and essay to:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Contest
Mail-in Submissions:
Essays must be received by Friday, January 5, 2018 at 5:00pm.  A confirmation will be sent to the email address listed on the registration form within three business days.
Essays may also be submitted on a walk-in basis.  The essay should be delivered to the Office of Student Services located on the campus of Ohio University Southern in the Collins Building.  The essay should be delivered to the attention of Robert Pleasant. Walk-in essays must be received by Friday, January 5 at 5:00pm.  A confirmation will be sent to the email address listed on the registration form within three business days.
Winners will be by notified by email and telephone.
By accepting a prize, winners grant to Ohio University Southern, the OUS Council on Diversity & Inclusion, the Ohio University MLK Celebration Committee and The Office of Diversity, Access and Equity the right to edit, publish, copy, display and otherwise use their entries in connection with this contest, and to further use their names, likenesses, and biographical information in advertising and promotional materials, without further compensation or permission, except where prohibited by law.  No responsibility can be assumed for lost or late mail.  Entries will not be returned.
Robert Pleasant, Coordinator of Diversity & Inclusion
Essays will be evaluated by a committee of faculty, staff, and students from Ohio University Southern.  Decisions of the evaluation committee are final. The committee must receive at least five contest entries for each grade range to run the contest.

Study Questions

How did King's extensive education affect his career as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement?

Although King forwent the life of a scholar by remaining at Dexter Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (where he did not have the opportunity to teach), his studies at Morehouse, Crozer, and Boston University provided meat for his speeches, guided his decisions, and provided him with a means to relate to whites. His sermons and writings often alluded to both the scripture and the secular philosophy he had read. He constantly "universalized" the struggle for civil rights for African Americans by relating it to other historical events he had analyzed. He created an impression of great authority by employing artful rhetorical structures, and by filling those structures with references to great names and great ideas with which he had come in contact during his years of formal education: in deciding, in a given situation, which course of action to take, King often bore in mind Walter Rauschenbusch's social gospel, which emphasized the importance of good deeds in the world; the pessimistic Christianity of Reinhold Niebuhr, who contended that immoral institutions could corrupt moral individuals; and the philosophical method of Hegel. King's reference to these and other thinkers, in writing and in speech, appealed to white audiences, and gave King validity in their eyes. Other early influences, such as the black church, King would play up or play down, depending on whom he was trying to impress.

Contrast King's view of America during the last three years of his life with his view during the Birmingham and Selma campaigns.

Whether as a strategic choice, or out of a real belief in it, King, in his early campaigns, frequently invoked the American Dream. In speeches, he borrowed the language of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, as well as that of the New Testament of the Bible. He talked about freedom in the conventional American sense of the word. Whenever he could, he violated racist local laws by referring to the federal laws with which they were at odds; he had far more qualms about disobeying a federal injunction than a state injunction. In his "I Have A Dream" speech, he presented America as a wasted opportunity, but not as an evil thing itself. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had passed, however, his view of the situation changed. Between racial tensions in the Northern ghettos, which the new legislation had done nothing to dispel, and the escalation of the Vietnam War, which seemed a conflict of capitalists against peasants, King began to believe that America's problems ran deeper than Jim Crow laws. He began to see social problems as rooted in economic iniquities. The whole system needed to be changed: the campaign that King was planning in the days before his assassination was a Poor People's March, in which the downtrodden, regardless of race, would unite and demand a redistribution of wealth.

Was King a leader in the right place at the right time, or can his success be attributed to his innate characteristics?

The Montgomery Bus Boycott effectively launched King's career as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. King was elected as the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, not only because he showed promise as a leader, however, but because he was new to town, and thus not yet implicated in local political rivalries. And yet his success owed something to his charisma as a speaker, as well as to his authority and intelligence: he was young–only twenty-six–but something about him made others willing to forgo their own egos and let him lead. And this happened again and again throughout his career; often he appeared at the site of some preexisting sit-in, voter-registration drive, or protest march and was instantly held up as its leader. Then again, the speed with which people responded to King also probably reflected how hungry the Civil Rights Movement was for a leader, a symbol, a figurehead–someone to articulate the hopes and dreams behind events, and thus lend chaos to order. And later in King's career, his propensity for instant acceptance caused a backlash, especially among members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who felt that his popularity indicated a superficiality or an opportunistic streak, and that it allowed him effortlessly to cash in on the victories they labored to achieve. Ultimately, as with so many great leaders, King's effectiveness stemmed probably from a mix of both his internally generated power and other people's need of him as a figure.

Essay Topics

Why did some of King's campaigns succeed, and others not?

How did King's relationship to the Johnson Administration differ from his relationship to the Kennedy Administration?

Toward what audience did King direct his "I Have a Dream" speech? How is this clear from the speech's language?

Characterize King's relationship to other leaders and organizations of the Civil Rights Movement.

Why was the church an important part of King's work as an activist? What did he gain by working with and through it?

What aspects of King's life are emphasized in mainstream America's remembrance of him?

If King had not been assassinated, what campaigns might he have organized in the 1970s and 1980s? Would the Civil Rights Movement perhaps fared differently during these years, or, after the victories of the sixties, was deceleration inevitable?


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