St. Paul School of Princeton seventh graders received an essay award and honors at the annual Princeton University Martin Luther King Day Celebration Jan. 21.
Every year at St. Paul School, Sally Chrisman’s language arts classes take on the challenge of entering the essay contest. Students in grades four through 12 throughout New Jersey are invited to apply the teachings and philosophy of Dr. King to a contemporary issue, where discrimination, oppression, or other social inequalities still exist, and propose solutions.
The three St. Paul students were honored in the “Grades 7-8 Literary” category and recognized at the University’s Martin Luther King Day Celebration.
In his second place essay, Evan presented strategies for eliminating prejudice against special needs populations. Julia’s essay was on ways to end discrimination against people with disabilities, and Meg’s essay was on solutions for removing the anti-Muslim sentiment that arose as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The essays had to consider the question, ‘How can we overcome assumptions about identity and foster inclusion?”, and propose ways in which individuals can take action to overcome differences and foster inclusion, while incorporating Dr. King’s philosophy and principles of equity, justice, and/or peace.
What follows are excerpts from student essays.
Focusing on a Lesser Known Issue
By Evan Monfre
St. Paul School, Princeton
When people think of examples of people being discriminated against in history, many would say African Americans or poor people. Not many people would think of people with special needs, but they are made fun of everyday.
Just like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was trying to get people of different skin colors to live in peace together, people should treat others with special needs like normal people, because they are. They do not need to be treated in a helpless way, or be treated like a young child. …
Not all people with special needs live on the streets or in special homes. They are your neighbors, your friend’s brother, or even your schoolmate. Dr. King wanted African Americans to live with white people without being harassed, and it should be the same for people with special needs.
Another way to combat this important issue is to teach about it in school. Health or other classes should have lessons about what each disability actually is and what each does, hopefully giving children a better understanding of them, which would lead to more tolerance. If we try to get the youth of America involved like Dr. King did, the fight against discrimination towards people with special needs could dwindle.
While hateful remarks can’t be completely eliminated, with the ways described before , they can be reduced, which will create a greater level of tolerance. Dr. King dreamed of a world without hate between skin colors, and I dream of a world without hate toward others who think a little differently.
The youth of today will play a major role tomorrow because if we plant the seed of tolerance in their heads right now, it will sprout into a large tree of knowledge and tolerance towards this matter, and all other matters. If everyone accepts others, our world would be one peaceful place, just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted.
Overcoming Stereotypes Against Disabled People
By Julia Berdzik
St. Paul School, Princeton
Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The civil rights movement worked to change racial stereotypes, but it can be applied to all types of bias. A racial stereotype is a prejudicial way of judging someone by the color of their skin.
People with disabilities are stereotyped in many different ways. Some disabilities are obvious, like a person in a wheelchair. Other disabilities may be hidden, such as mental illness or autism. People with disabilities have to deal with physical barriers such as buildings that may not be handicapped accessible and other barriers such as people that may avoid them and rules that limit their participation in activities.
For disabled individuals, interactions with other people are usually much more difficult because people make assumptions about them that are not correct.
People cannot help making assumptions about a person because we are not perfect and we have our own insecurities. An assumption is a way of judging someone in your mind. It is a personal belief so sometimes it is difficult for others to change how one person perceives another person. … We can help overcome these stereotypes through education.
People need to understand that disabled people are extremely capable and a person’s disability does not define them. Schools do not include disabled children in many classroom settings. Not too many years ago, students with learning disabilities and other mental disabilities did not participate in mainstream classes or were required to be home schooled. People who were physically disabled were prevented from playing sports, but now there are organizations like the Special Olympics that allow people with disabilities to compete in a variety of activities. …
People should be more open minded to befriending and including individuals who are disabled. Individuals can learn a lot from people who are different than they are. Many times, individuals learn more about themselves by developing relationships with other people who they normally would not have befriended.
We can also remove physical barriers, such as stairs, that block disabled people. Even though there are many laws out there to make facilities more handicapped accessible, it is still very difficult for individuals in wheelchairs to go wherever they want. My grandmother is in a wheelchair and I have seen how difficult it is for her to go to restaurants, stores, my house, medical centers, and other places that she goes to. She misses participating in normal activities that we take for granted . …
Martin Luther King, Jr. had many remarkable quotes. One such quote which could apply to disability discrimination is, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” … Dr. King believed in freedom and equality for everyone. He believed in fighting peacefully against stereotypes and hate.
There are also ways you can help … Some of them are donating to charities that are for disabled people and on weekends if you have a friend or family member who is disabled you can help them. By doing this we can overcome assumptions against the disabled and make the disabled people feel better which would make them happier. This would impress Dr. King and show how well we’re doing with stereotypes and how we keep making progress with our problems here and nationwide.
By Meg Gordon
St. Paul School, Princeton
In this country today there are many people who dislike Muslims or people from the Middle East. The cause of this prejudice is due to Sept. 11, 2001. … Often, when people see a Muslim today they think that he or she is a terrorist or in some way connected to Sept. 11. People may mistreat or exclude Muslim children in schools, or adults in public places. …
The solution for this problem is that we should follow Martin Luther King’s quote, “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they do not know each other; they do not know each other because they cannot communicate because they are separated.”
This tells us that we should bring our society together to get to know each other. One example of bringing mixed race, including Muslims, in our community is that there should be a special type of fundraiser or club in the school systems that brings families together. …
Churches can also be vehicles which can help people know people of the Muslim faith. The darkness and hatred would no longer exist across the country against Muslims. …
Martin Luther King’s quote points out that we were separated and we were not educated about their culture. This could have been prevented by introducing our country and our own culture to them. Using children in school settings as solutions helps bring families together. When we get to know each other we find that we have many similar interests. When we get to know people our fear of the person goes away. …
In conclusion, when someone looks so different from us we think that we have nothing in common with the person. As an example, some Muslim women wear head scarves for their religion and that seems foreign to us. When people look different from us it does not mean that we are better than them. The only way the world can live peacefully is to learn and know that most people have the same values. It does not matter what color our skin is or what language we speak. We are really all the same, and I think that is really what binds us together.[[In-content Ad]]