Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Meet the Martin Luther King Essay Winners

Stirring words from young people in grades 2 through 12.

The six winners attend schools throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Photos courtesy of individual students.

The six winners attend schools throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Photos courtesy of individual students.

Editor’s note: For the 38th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Contest, students throughout southeastern Wisconsin responded to the theme, “Keep Moving Forward,” from King’s address, “Keep Moving the Mountain” given at Spelman College in Atlanta on April 10, 1960. 

Here, we’ve collected essays from the six age category winners. The writing contest is sponsored by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Virtual Celebration, which takes place at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17. The event is presented by Bader Philanthropies in conjunction with the Marcus Performing Arts Center.

‘Absolutely nothing is impossible’

Grade 11-12: 

Abdelrahman Kadadha

Abdelrahman Kadadha

Abdelrahman Kadadha is in 12th grade at Salam School.

Continual progress and development is a part of human nature. As time has passed by, humans have never stopped innovating and becoming smarter and more efficient. Discoveries and commonalities in the world today would have been considered witchcraft in previous centuries.

All the people in history who have had the courage to break down walls and do what was previously thought as impossible have gone down as legends. Their legacies are still brought to attention today. What separated these humans was that no matter the obstacles of their time, they continued to move forward and break barriers. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of these people, as he encountered many obstacles in his dream to eliminate racism. MLK preached that no matter the challenge, continuing to move forward and progress day-by-day will eventually get you closer to achieving what you were meant to achieve and become.

Complacency is a major issue overcoming many people today. They are satisfied with their position in life and what they have accomplished, so they stop setting goals. They stop their journey of continual self-improvement and settle down believing that they have done everything they can do. Humans are special in that there is no limit as to what we are capable of. Every person has strengths and weaknesses, but what people do not ever realize is that your weaknesses make you stronger. Meaning, by expanding on your weaknesses and turning them into strengths, your weaknesses are making you stronger. They are giving you a point where you can work and improve. This is why MLK preached that continuous improvement, even if small, should be a staple in everyday life.

Falling in love with the process is what will give you the motivation to always set new goals. In reality, by achieving your goals you will feel nothing but a dopamine release and then you are back to normal. Achieving your goals is not what makes you feel fulfilled, but rather it is the feeling of constantly improving yourself. That small dopamine release that is happening every time you get what you have been working for will only make you want to set new goals and work for something else. That constant chase for self-improvement and complete self-awareness is what will give you purpose and the drive to reach new heights.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one the greatest leaders in recent history and the impact he has had still reaches our youth today. His mission and vision inspire many and show that absolutely nothing is impossible. His message for constant improvement is some of the best advice you can give someone. To keep moving forward is to continually remind yourself that you can do anything you set your mind to. This constant drive and push for greatness is how we as a society will improve our circumstances and make life better for everyone.

How long do we have to constantly prove our humanity?

Grade 9-10: 

Sa’maia Evans

Sa’maia Evans

Sa’maia Evans is in 10th grade at West Bend West High School.

Keep moving forward, keep moving forward, keep moving forward. Dr. King proclaimed these words in an effort to emphasize how important it is to continuously progress regardless of the circumstances. Specifically, from a racial standpoint. He made it clear that it is crucial that we do not give up on our mission to achieve equality and peace for the Black man, the Black woman, Black child.

Keep moving forward, keep moving forward, keep moving forward. As a Black child, I hear this phrase echoing in my head every day, reminding me not to give up on our fight for life. Keep moving forward, keep moving forward, keep moving forward. I utter this phrase under my breath as I scroll through social media and see videos casually posted in which people of my complexion are being barbarically massacred.

Keep moving forward, keep moving forward, keep moving forward. I remember this importance as I turn on the TV and watch as people like me are protesting all around the country in an effort to be heard, only to be tear-gassed and beaten by the people that are suppressors, our so-called protectors.

Keep moving forward, keep moving forward, keep moving forward. I contemplate the legitimacy of this phrase as I read in the news that the president of my country, the man who is supposed to fight for the liberties of all American peoples, has declared that people like me are murderous, lazy thieves.

Keep moving forward, keep moving forward, keep moving forward. This time I forget this phrase as I sit in my history class and listen to my white peers debate the validity of Black life. The validity of my life.

I know that we are supposed to keep moving forward, but it is easy to forget sometimes. We’ve been fighting for equality and pushing to move forward for so long. We’ve been suffering in this white society as we’ve been killed, persecuted, hunted, raped, ridiculed and invalidated based upon the color of our skin from day one. But how long do we have to fight? How long do we have to constantly prove our humanity and keep pushing forward until we can rest? Until we can finally sit and take a breath without having to worry about being shot in the back for breathing?

At many times, it seems relieving to give up in this everlasting strife. But then I remember that it is not my fight to surrender. I remember to keep moving forward for all of those who came before me, and all of those to come after. We must keep pushing because we’ve come this far, and it would be unfair to not only ourselves, but to those who depend on us, to give up when we need to resist the most.

The fight is not over, and we must keep moving forward, keep moving forward, keep moving forward so our children can see better days.

‘I remember my grandmother’

Grade 7-8:

Victoria Kona

Victoria Kona

Victoria Kona is in seventh grade at the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language.

There is only one thing that you can do when faced with obstacles throughout your life: Keep Moving Forward. To me, that means not dwelling on the past, but always looking toward the future. It means making the most out of every situation, whether good or bad.

I think of my grandmother. She was the best grandmother ever, which I know everyone says, but she really was. When she visited from Maheba, we would travel to the market together. We would buy food to cook authentic African meals and I would always ask for chocolate at the end of our trips. She would respond with, “Should we get some for your sister, too?” That was my grandmother — always thinking of everyone.

She taught me how to be a strong, independent young woman, which was forbidden for her in the times she grew up in. For her, she was told what to do, how to act, and what to wear. She did not want that for me, and she taught me how to be confident and sure of myself and my worth.

My grandmother died not so long ago. It was the saddest moment of my life. I was not there to see her or hear her last words. I cried a lot, but I knew that is not what she would have wanted me to do — she was such a happy person. I knew that I had to keep moving forward and not look back in the past with sadness, but rather happiness of the memories made.

But, as I came to realize, saying that and doing that were two different things. It took me a while to figure out what moving forward really meant. At first, I started off not thinking about her death and pretending it didn’t happen. But that just left me with an emptiness inside.

So, I knew I had to make some changes. I surrounded myself with my family. I started to journal all of my feelings to help me remember my grandmother. I made a list of all the qualities that my grandmother was: kind, funny, smart.

Now, every time I am kind to a stranger, I remember my grandmother. Now, every time I make my mother laugh during dinner, I remember my grandmother. Now, every time I put in hard work on an assignment, I remember my grandmother.

Moving forward without her next to me was not easy, but with time, I have started to figure it out.

Through my grandmother’s death, I have learned and lived the true meaning of “keep moving forward.” I’ve learned how to continue living life, through all of its obstacles.

‘What they went through was difficult but not permanent’

Grade 6:

Cornell Penager Davidson

Cornell Penager Davidson

Cornell Penager Davidson is in sixth grade at Fernwood Montessori.


When I think of the most important things in my life, I think about my past, my present and my future. My past because I have family members who believe in me, guide me and help me make decisions. My present because I face challenges every day and must make decisions about them, not knowing if these decisions will affect the rest of my life. My future because I know it has been about one hundred years since members of my family faced a worldwide pandemic. These realities are not an excuse to keep me from my goals. I am inspired by Dr Martin Luther King to keep fighting against obstacles and difficulties. I truly believe in his message to keep moving forward.


My family taught me to be proud of my work whether it was a large task or a small task. I was taught to study and give myself enough time to complete the job. I believe this can be applied to students and to society. What holds us back is that we don’t always know what’s next. It is easy to fear the unknown, but how can I give up when I know that people before me overcame slavery, racial segregation, violence and unfair treatment just to be recognized as being fully human or get access to a good education or exercise the right to vote. They faced life threatening challenges. I learned from them that what they went through was difficult but not permanent.


Today, I watch the news of the present and it looks frightening. America’s vision is to be the promised land but with incidents like Gorge Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Emmett Till, this seems to not be the case. This vision can be achieved using small steps, focusing on one problem at a time. This way, the solution will be clear and we can keep moving forward. You can’t get anywhere without knowing your goal. You can’t know your goal unless you take steps toward it. You can’t take steps towards your goal with negative thinking and being around negative people. And you will never reach your goal if you don’t learn from your mistakes.

“But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”-Dr Martin Luther King

‘We need to see “equity” as a verb’

Grade 4-5:

Isabella Krieger Silva

Isabella Krieger Silva

Isabella Krieger Silva is in fourth grade at Fernwood Montessori.

COVID-19 is the reason many people are sad. When we walk along the street or in the park, people walk away from each other. We are divided, we are scared of each other. The sad part is that people of color experience this — people look at them differently, walking away, closing their hearts and minds.

I used to think I couldn’t do anything about this. “It’s just little me,” I thought to myself, “What can I do?” I realized I was wrong because everybody contributes to justice. I’m responsible for my little percentage, and you too — it’s yours to change, take it!

In 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Keep moving, for it may well be that the greatest song has not yet been sung, the greatest book has not yet been written, the highest mountain has not been climbed.” I agree. It is “our” challenge, we need to see each other. We need to see “all” students — the poor, the elderly, the homeless and the sick. Make the invisible visible, so we can heal our community. As Frank L. Gaines said, “Only people who can see the invisible can do the impossible.”

We must start with ourselves. Be kind! Let’s bring art to our sidewalks, write a poem, have conversations, be brave and stand for what is right.

You can’t wait for others to begin. We all have power. I have a special power — I’m a biracial girl. Some people give a label and I’m so much more than that — I am an artist, a gymnast, an actress, a dancer, and, yes, I’m bilingual. I’m proud of my two cultures.

We need to see “equity” as a verb. We need to do something. As Dr. King said, “We must keep moving. If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl; but by all means keep moving . . . to Keep Moving Forward.”

This is still true today in our society. Many people need to heal, to move forward. Everyone has power, we are making history as we speak. Take your power to talk about race, equity and justice to build the future and move forward.

‘He helped change the world’

Grades 2-3:

Leslie White

Leslie White

Leslie White is in third grade at Golda Meir Elementary.

My theme is, “Keep moving forward.” Something that is a barrier this year is COVID-19.

My reason to overcome this barrier is to keep my family safe. I do that by cleaning desk tops and wearing masks at all times when my family is in a big group. I have a very, very big family and I don’t get to see them often, but we video chat when we can. On Thanksgiving, all of us were there. We get so happy when we see each other.

Another barrier is going to school on a computer. It’s hard not getting to see my new classmates and teachers. The Wi-Fi gets bad when the weather is bad and I have to do my homework on a computer and not on paper. I don’t get to play on the playground or go outside with the fresh air and feel the wind blowing in my hair. I get to stay home in bed sometimes and I know that this won’t last forever.

Martin Luther King Jr. gave great speeches about equal rights and peace. Some people wanted that too and others didn’t want to have equal rights. Martin Luther King Jr. helped change their minds. That is another thing that was great about his speeches. He helped change the world and made people believe they could always keep moving forward.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

One thought on “Meet the Martin Luther King Essay Winners”

  1. mkwagner says:

    What an amazing, thoughtful and wise group. I am inspired by your words. Thank you and congratulations on your Martin Luther King Jr essay wins.

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