Creative Students Use Their Talents to Memorialize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy at Annual Essay and Art Contests

Published : Thursday, January 16, 2020 | 6:03 AM

Community members and local leaders joined parents and school officials Tuesday as they watched student contestants read and display their creations for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Essay and Visual Arts/Poster Contests, during the finalists’ public readings and art exhibition at Longfellow Elementary School in Pasadena.

The contests were announced last October, and entries from students in grades 4 through 12 in Pasadena’s public and private schools were submitted in the first week of December.

The essay readings and art displays were presented to a panel of judges to hear the essays or to view the art entries, before choosing the winners. These are preliminary events before the annual MLK Holiday celebration, which occurs on Monday, January 20, at Robinson Park Recreation Center, the Pasadena MLK Community Coalition said.

“The day starts with continental breakfast and a teach-in, so there’ll be a discussion group and a film showing,” Denise Jones, board member of the Pasadena MLK Community Coalition, said “At 9:45 [a.m.], the program starts. We have two speakers that will give their perspective on the theme this year, which is ‘what do you think Martin Luther King would do with the ballot today?’ This year, we’re doing a national election and we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote, so our theme has to do with the ballot. We’ve asked the kids to reflect that in their entries.”

The two speakers during the MLK Holiday celebration are Pasadena Tournament of Roses president Laura Farber and community activist Nat Nadar, Jones said.

Pasadena-based educators Jackie and David Jacobs started the contests about 25 years ago, said Jones.

“I’ve been on the board for the last six or seven years, but it goes way back and it started as an essay contest,” Jones said. “The founders of the organization actually knew Martin Luther King. They were from Mobile [Alabama] and when they moved here, they just knew how important it would be to continue the legacy. It started as an essay contest, and as time went on, it expanded to not only essay, but art and performing arts. This year we’re just doing essay and art.”

According to the MLK Community Coalition’s website, the essay contest has been going on for 26 years and has been encouraging students in the Pasadena Unified School District and local private schools to write essays addressing different aspects of Dr. King’s legacy.

Beginning in 2003, the coalition introduced the art contest to include the growing pool of talented student visual artists.

The combined entries from both the essay and art contests have numbered well into the thousands. To date, over 20,000 students have entered the essay contest, and 2,585 young artists have submitted entries for the art contest.

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