SALT LAKE CITY — In anticipation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students in Utah wrote essays and created videos prompted by a quote from the civil rights leader: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
Eighteen junior high and high school students were recognized Wednesday for winning the 30th annual essay and video contest put on by the Utah State Office of Education.
Winners read their essays and presented their videos after the Rev. France Davis, pastor at Salt Lake Calvary Baptist Church, gave the keynote address.
Davis said he could speak all day about King and his own experiences during the civil rights movement — attending Tuskegee Institute; marching in Washington, D.C., and Selma, Ala.; helping with voter registration; and meeting Malcolm X.
"Dr. King was the kind of person that, although highly educated, could talk to anybody on anybody's level and never allowed them to feel like they was less than he was," he said.
About 50 years ago, Davis attended the march on Washington, D.C., with 250,000 others. There, he listened to the keynote speech of King, also a pastor.
"It was like turning on the electrical lights in a dark room," Davis said, "because the boring speeches that we'd listened to all of the morning, now we've got an energetic, exciting, rhythmic preacher speaker delivering what was the main message for the day that you come to know as the 'I Have a Dream' speech."
Davis quoted parts of King's speech and gave his own observations and advice using what he learned from King.
"Without dignity, equality and freedom, our spirits will fall short," he said.
He said people still need to have dreams and goals, need to start where they are and then reach for the higher possibilities.
"Unless we dream, we will miss the mark," Davis said. "So dream a little."
Davis also challenged the students to get enough sleep, wake up early, develop their minds and do something in the community.
This year, 714 essays and 38 videos were entered into the contest open to all Utah students in seventh to 12th grades.
"I have faith in our future as a result of the wonderful students and children that are being raised in this generation," said Bruce Williams, associate superintendent of the Utah State Office of Education. "Hopefully, we can keep that dream alive and continue to move forward."
The essays and videos addressed the idea of action, having a voice and standing for something.
"I think that Dr. King was trying to say that we should all have the decency of character to show courage in the face of our enemies, even if it is difficult," read Chloe Fowers, a ninth-grader at Syracuse Arts Academy and junior high grand prize winner.
Fowers and her peers focused on bullying — in school and on social media — using specific scenarios and poignant personal examples. They gave a resounding commitment to speak out.
"I will let my voice be heard," Fowers said. "I will not step over anyone to climb a little higher on the ladder of life or sit silently by as someone else hurts the people I care about."
The high school group-winning video echoed her sentiments. The video featured five Woods Cross High School students acting out different scenes of bullying or abuse. At the end of each scenario, observers placed black tape over their mouths to signify silence.
At the end of the video, the students stood in a line, removed the tape and said, "We will speak up." A caption followed with, "Will you?"
The group of friends spent a few days collaborating, then interpreting and explaining the quote they had been given.
"We just talked about what situations really the silence affects individuals," Chelsea Sather said. "We thought about what in school and in our friend group affect individuals."
Maddie Dalley said she learned she needs to speak up for her friends, even if she feels intimidated.
"They have seen the bullying. They've got firsthand knowledge of this," said Noelle Viny, Woods Cross High School's Advanced Placement English teacher whose students entered more than 100 essays and 10 videos.
"I hope that they don't remain silent," Viny said, "that they learn that they do have a voice, and that voice is not only for themselves, but that voice needs to be for others."
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