2012-01-12 / 15 Minutes

Young essayists talk about the meaning of MLK today

Special to Florida Weekly

“Everyone can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve...” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Better-known quotes than the one above are often used when writing and speaking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But it took a local high school student, Loquessnie Orleus, to give Dr. King’s message new meaning, as captured in her award-winning essay about the nature of, and reason for, serving.

Miss Orleus, a 10th-grade student at Port Charlotte High School, was one of 26 high school and middle school students to participate in the annual essay writing contest held in conjunction with Charlotte County’s Martin Luther King celebration activities.

Miss Orleus, along with second-place high school winner Logan Cook (10th grade, PCHS) and middle school first and second-place winners Michaela Etheart and Destiny Boggs (seventh and eighth graders, respectively, both students at Murdock Middle School), will be honored for their award-winning essays at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast at Punta Gorda Middle School set for Saturday, Jan. 14. aa Ms. Cook writes with sparkle, punctuating her sentences with colloquialisms and the occasional grammatical error.

Bot But, as Dr. King’s quote alludes to, most of us would rather meet a good heart than a proper sentence. Miss Orleus’ eessay stands out not only because of her language, but also because of her injunction that citizenship is the key to achieving King’s dream of a pluralistic society. Her words take on greater meaning in this election year.

“…it’s kind of depressing to see half of our ‘wonderful’ nation silent,” she writes. “They’re silent when it comes to the election; they’re silent when it comes to the census and many other things that have to deal with change to the country. You would think that most people never say or do anything because they don’t want to. But you’re wrong. Again! Maybe they are silent because they’re scared or intimidated or maybe it’s because they feel like there is no use.

“As a nation, we have to stand firm and work together to make this country become a new plateau of compassion, and peace for any other outsider. It can work. We just have to get our lazy butts off the sofa, chair, and out of bed so that we can make this nation rise. I don’t know about you, but I am most definitely ready for a new beginning. And that starts with no sexual discrimination, no more bias discrimination, no more discriminating against the ill and no more beating around the bushes… So let’s start making a change. I don’t mean only talking about it but actually doing it.”

Sure, some may label her call to action trite, asking, “What has she done?”

But what have you done?

Ms. Orleus describes how even people who did vote — for President Obama — now stand on the sidelines and whine as they watch him struggle. The 10thgrader reminds us that our children are watching our civic engagement, or lack of it, and learning from our example.

“…in order to keep this country together, we must work our tails off to help the government make the changes. If you think (the government) can do it on (its) own, you are absolutely, positively wrong,” writes Miss Orleus.

Kym Sheehan, a curriculum and instruction/secondary literacy specialist with the Charlotte County Public Schools, coordinated the students’ participation. Susan Wylie, a volunteer at Blanchard House Museum, served as the museum’s contact person.

The breakfast, which begins at 8 a.m. Jan. 14, in the Punta Gorda Middle School cafeteria, will benefit the Blanchard House Museum. Rev. Booker T. Haynes Jr. will be honored with the Humanitarian Award for exceptional service in the Punta Gorda community. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Anthony Dixon, director of the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Call 575-751 for details.

By the way, it would be appropriate to end with more of the quote with which this column started — English teachers be warned! ¦

“… You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

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