The Next Page: Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream lives on

Carnegie Mellon University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Writing Awards encourage students to relate their experiences with race and discrimination. Here are some of this year’s winning high-school entries.

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The 15th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Writing Awards attracted 13 entries from four colleges and universities and 215 entries from eight high schools. Winners will read their entries at 12:30 p.m. Monday in the University Center's Rangos Ballroom. CMU English Professor Jim Daniels, who created the awards, will be honored Friday at Coro Pittsburgh's Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards.

 

Deborah Monti
16, Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, first place, poetry

"The Woman, the Paradigm"

Skin starts crinkling
As my arms start peeling and my hips start widening
And my freckles begin disintegrating as my face morphs
Into a soft-cheeked big lipped paradigm
Of the Hispanic women society has made me out to be.
Until my hair turns a jet black shade
My eyes an almond brown and my skin a deep cocoa
I cannot speak Spanish
They see that I am pale and lanky and sheltered
And until I crack with Hispanic features
They will not believe my native tongue.
I too had a dream
But it was of sweet bonbons and the local radio station
The chain linked fences and cheap fireworks
Grandmother's sweet kisses.
With a tattooed back, a lip pierced, and a faint accent
I've signed my life to be a Latina teen from Queens
Well I might be
Because that's the only Hispanic woman portrayed on TV.

 

Alexis Payne, 16
Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, second-place, poetry

"Give"

 

My father's eyes become wide sometimes
when he cries

for his people and the lost years

language

the breathless beaten
stripped and whipped
men who look like him.

my father's eyes are brown like his skin
like his scarred hands that screw screws into

metal studs. the nail gun
pops and sputters.

why does my father cry?
as he begs me to take this world
and make something
more than his tools

as he stretches the tape measure
across the window frame and
adds in his head

as he pops the chalk box on the drywall
and cuts with his utility knife
perfect lines and angles

as he leaves for work every morning
at 5 am with his eyes tired,
his knees pained
his back sore
carpenter. proud.
he writes his name on everything
he owns. why does my father cry?
when the men at the site
think he's a laborer because
his skin is brown like his eyes.

he teaches me
to ensure trim on doorways
and lay hardwood floors.
he teaches me to be strong.
and proud.

he tells me that the world is mine

my father's eyes are brown like his skin
like his arms that reach around me and hug

like his tears that burn his cheeks
like sulfur or acid.
why does my father cry?

because his hands are all he has to give

not a language or a culture but his hands
with their lines that I've memorized
like a poem

his hands

my father grits his teeth
and blinks.

pluck him out and in a different
time, my father would scream,
my father would kill.
he would smash glass and break wood

but here my father cries.
he cries
tears into his hands
and they run down the lines
like rivers.

 

Bani Randhawa
18, Pittsburgh Allderdice, third place, poetry

"The Diary of a Suspected Terrorist"

i am the seventeen years of removing the shoes from my feet
the phone from my pocket
the brown from my skin
as i stand in airport security,
the red hot shame that fills my throat to a close as the
officer swabs my father's turban for explosives.

i am the pungent turmeric that stains the pots in my mother's
kitchen,
its smell lingering in the wool of my sweaters and the strands of
my hair.
i am the summation of all of the times i have stood and recited
the pledge of allegiance
in school, hand over my heart, the taste of last night's aloo matar
still lingering on my lips

my mother places her rough hand over mine, aged from the
hours spent
chopping onions for masala and massaging coconut oil into her
thick black hair.
her servile eyes turn down, away from the bright blue ones that
glare at her
"yes sir, you may pat me down," she whispers.
yes sir, to the man who hears her thick accent and pulls her
aside.
yes sir, to the man who pulls open her empty pockets and
shakes out her shoes.
yes sir. yes sir. yes sir.

i walk through the metal detector next to my mother but not
with her,
for she is the fourteen hour plane rides that span the eight
thousand miles between
her house and her true home,
the yellow ambassador cabs on the streets of kolkata that honk
away the hours of the night,
the muffled long-distance phone calls she makes that reduce
her voice to the faintest of whispers.

my father is defeated as he sits to retie his shoes.
perhaps it his silent demeanor and blank eyes
that he has while being patted down that say more
than his empty answers to the officers.
i watch the triumph diminish from his tired eyes as
he questions the american flag on his lapel,
the hamburger in his belly, the
United States of America.

 

Bridget Re
17, Winchester Thurston School, second place, prose

"Co-ed"

Mud is splashed all over my teammates as they come off the field smiling. We have just won against one of our biggest rivals and are moving on to the next round of playoffs. With shortness of breath, everyone talks about the great plays of the game and how utterly exhausted they are. But all I can say is how tired my hand is from filling up water bottles for an hour.

I am the only girl on our school's "co-ed" varsity soccer team. As I continue to commit my time and heart to this team, I become anxious, waiting every game for my coach to call my name and tell me it's my time to play. But each time, I find my hopes dashed as the buzzer goes off signaling the end of yet another game. Whenever I talk to my coach about soccer and the lack of time I get on the field, he tells me, "You're going to get a lot more playing coming up soon."

Yet, continuously, I find myself on the bench, with that empty promise ringing through my ears. Nonstop, I wonder why I never get played. Is it because I'm not good enough, even though my coach tells me that I'm "a huge asset to the team," or is it because I am a girl? My mind settles on the latter, and I feel even more ostracized by my "team."

I remember that at the end of one game, the two teams lined up to shake hands, and even though I had not played, I stood in line, too. I was used to getting odd looks during lineups, like I was a rare breed of animal on display at a zoo. But this time, as I walked through hearing the echo of "good game...good game," my ears perked up in surprise to hear one boy blurt out, "Oooh, hello, cutie!"

My mind froze at first out of disbelief. Once my shock subsided, a snowball effect took place inside my head, conjuring ideas as to why he had said that. I was jolted out of my trance when I heard my friend behind me crack up, and I decided to laugh to hide the discomfort I felt inside.

However, feeling dejected by this stranger's lewd comment, I subconsciously crossed my arms over my chest and looked down at the ground, determined not to make eye contact with anyone. I felt ashamed. Who was I to think that I could actually play on an all-boys team?

After this incident, I became more aware that I was a girl encroaching on a male team. No longer could I pretend that I was acknowledged as just "one of the guys." All of a sudden, I became aware of the wandering, degrading stares I got as I bent down to stretch along with my teammates, which made me disgracefully take a place in the back of the line -- hoping to go unnoticed. I became aware of the offensive sexual comments they made on the bus rides home from games, which made me yearn to become invisible. I became aware of what they said about me. I became aware that I was not played because I'm a girl.

Then the day came where I could no longer take it. After sitting on the bench during yet another game, I walked up to one of my best friends on the team and started to cry -- a very girlish thing to do. Nonetheless, he listened as I vented to him about how I didn't feel I was good enough to play on the team, and he replied by telling my how much I gave to the team, only to get nothing back. He kept on telling me over and over again that I should switch to field hockey because I would "get more out of being on an all-girls team."

"Great," I thought to myself. Even my best friend noticed that I was a fox in the henhouse. I was used to these comments, though it still hurt me that he wanted me gone as well. It wasn't the first time someone told me I should switch to an all-girls team instead of being with the boys. I think they believe I'm not capable of playing with boys twice my size. They also don't want to see a girl get hurt or knocked around.

I used to be determined to show all of those people that I was going to stick with soccer and not give in to sexism. But discouraged from never being played, I stopped caring about something that was once a passion. The next year, when fall sports come around, I grudgingly decide to play field hockey, recognizing that prejudice had won.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly ... I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be ... This is the interrelated structure of reality." King was trying to convey the idea that when you treat someone as an outsider, you end up promoting separation and prejudice. The lives of all people are entangled and influenced by each other; therefore, injustice to an individual threatens justice for everybody.

People might believe that any act of injustice that happens to someone else will not affect them, but in the long run, it does. My story may be small on the scale of sexism; however, I regret my decision in switching because I now realize that I was only aiding the enemy. Due to my inability to speak up, I was unable to stop the prejudice that surrounded me. I was tempted by the easy way out, not realizing that I was aiding a bigger cause than just my lack of field time. For that I will always be remorseful.


The Next Page is different every week. Joe Smydo, jsymdo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.

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