The Next Page: On the wings of Dr. King
Since 1999, the Creative Writing Program at Carnegie Mellon University has organized the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Writing Awards. The guidelines call for poems or personal narratives that respond to or are inspired by the legacy of Dr. King. The competition is open to students from local high schools and Carnegie Mellon.
Fifteen high school students were honored for their work. We present here first-place winners in prose and poetry.
"Krissy and Chris"
By Madeline Chandler
My teacher sat him
next to me. I will not
sit next to him. He
dresses so weirdly. I
bet he's in a gang.
I can not sit next to him.
I can't sit next to that girl.
I hate some teachers. They
think they can put me
wherever they want. I'm not
sitting next to some white girl.
I won't be able to focus in
class. She hasn't moved me yet.
I won't pass the class. If I don't
pass the class I won't get
into college. If I don't get
into college it will be all his fault.
I bet he doesn't even know what
I think she thinks I'm stupid. I have
gotten straight A's for my entire life.
I bet she just hangs out
at the mall all the time trying
to figure out if she can
dye her hair any blonder.
What if he tries to
shoot me? We're reading a
book about slavery. He glares
at me every day. I can't
sit next to him anymore. Why
can't they move me?
We're reading about slavery.
She looks at me every day. We
are 200 years past this. We need
to learn about it for the common
good. Ignorant girls.
He's left-handed. I have never met
a person who is left-handed. I
wanted to ask him about it. Then
I remembered who he is.
Her hair is so straight. It
always falls back into one position.
Straight and long and down to her
shoulders. None of my friends
have hair that does that. They
usually just pull it back.
The only earrings that anyone I
know wears are gauges. He
doesn't wear gauges. He wears
earrings and they are big and
diamonds. I wonder if they're
heavy. My earrings aren't, but
mine aren't nearly that big. I
can't focus in class because
of that big diamond. He's
gonna make me fail.
She stares at me all of the time. I
don't want her staring at me. She's
probably trying to find some dumb
rumor to start about me. Every day
right before the bell rings she
does the same thing. She checks her
makeup, fixes her hair, and puts lip
gloss on. She's probably doing it
so when she goes out in the hall
she can prove she's the prettiest.
I talked to him today. He asked me
"what's good?" I think that
means "what's up?" God,
he's so weird. I wanted
to ask him what he meant
but instead I just glared at him. I
can't talk to him.
I tried to be nice to her. But she
proved to me exactly what I
already knew. White girls think
they're better than everyone else.
I can't believe I thought she was
intriguing. She's so predictable.
I am so scared to talk
to this person.
Madeline Chandler is a junior at the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and a regular contributor to the Post-Gazette's "My Generation" page. She lives in Highland Park.
By Morgan Gilbreath
It was a cool sunny morning on my side of town that particular Sunday. It was early spring, with the gradual homecoming of the singing birds and the slow return of color to the landscape of trees outside of my window. I was normally sluggish every Sunday morning, for it was my only precious time for relaxation.
But on this certain Sunday, I did not linger in my bed an extra hour as I normally did, breathing in the deep aroma of brewing coffee that drifted its way throughout my creaking house. On some strange impulse inside of me, I instead woke up quite early, and promptly dressed as the sun outside rose in the sky. On this peculiar whim, I snatched my camera from the corner of my shadowy room, loaded it with black-and-white film, and made my way to the Hill District.
My entire life, the Hill District had always piqued my interest for some reason that I do not know. Every day, my school bus made its way through the area of town. With my eyes glued to the window, I would admire the freedom and culture brewing within this crumbling neighborhood overflowing with history. I had never in my life seen anywhere so unique, so real in its urban beauty.
As I made my way there, the loud rumble of the rushing street beneath my car as I drove began to prepare my still tired and quiet self for the vibrant life I was about to encounter that morning.
When I arrived in there, an energetic environment greeted me. Because it was Sunday, I found myself in a different Hill District that the one I had always admired on my school-bound weekdays.
As the bright sky shined down onto the gray sidewalks, people walked down the street, dressed in their Sunday best, on their way to church. They walked down the road, with smiles on their faces, meeting friends and family along the way, greeting them with hugs and kisses and loud laughter.
I specifically remember a large woman, her black skin beautifully wrinkled with age, standing on the church steps in a green sequin get-up, singing a church hymn and clapping her hands, smiling with her heart for all to see. Cars advanced down the road, constantly slowing down to honk their horns at others, greeting both friends and strangers in this lovely hustle and bustle of Sunday morning.
Walking down the cracked pavement, camera in my pale white hand, I felt somewhat out of place in my quiet disposition. I timidly made my way past rather economically suffering homes and streets crowded with smiling faces. I suddenly felt ashamed of my crisp clean clothes, plain blonde hair, and fortunate lifestyle. But nonetheless, I began to snap pictures.
Down the road from the swarming church, I visited a sight familiar to me from my bus route. The New Granada Theater was an old venue in which countless jazz and blues legends first played. Since closed, the rusting art-deco facade of the theater still shone in fading colors. Numerous signs were pasted up on its boarded up doors with messages such as "We will never forget you, August Wilson."
I could hear the faint church music from down the street as I gradually began to get into my photographer mode, losing consciousness of all of my surroundings, now seeing the world only through my camera's viewfinder. "The New Granada!"
A man behind me on the street suddenly paused beside me, breaking my temporary photographic nirvana. He was a large, round black man with a gray beard, honest brown eyes and a warm smile.
"I remember when this place first opened up," he began to reminisce. "It was the place to be! I remember coming here every Saturday night, back when I was a young man. Did you know that back then, this was the only place a black man like me could come to dance? Hard to believe, isn't it?"
I smiled, eagerly absorbing every word this man spoke as he continued, telling me about the musical legends that he had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see at the New Granada. The images I had captured on my film were suddenly brought to life because of this man's vivid recollections.
I next made my way to a tiny, isolated park situated in an empty lot between some houses. It was not a traditional park, with shining benches, crisp green grass, and neatly trimmed hedges. This park, in all honesty, could be mistaken for a junkyard when seen from afar.
But as I entered the park, I realized that it was all artwork, a tiny urban haven of whimsical magic. Scattered throughout the empty lot were little areas encircled with rocks, containing plywood splattered with paint and old bicycle parts propped up and arranged in a beautiful composition.
Hanging off of these sculptures were tiny strings of broken glass that glinted in the sun and tinkled delicately in the soft wind. With the cool morning dew still adorning the yellow grass of the park, I again snapped my camera every which way, capturing the enchanting world before me. "You're not taking pictures of us are you?" asked a woman sitting on a rusted white metal bench with an old man.
"Oh no I am not," I replied, "Don't worry!" The woman smiled, "All right dear, thank you."
I continued to take pictures around these two people enjoying the day on that bench as they talked together, catching up on the local gossip. Then, the man, with the large tree above him reflected in his dark glasses, began to talk to me, "Do you know the story of this park?" I shook my head. He began to tell me about a man, Jorge Myers, who lived across the street from this lot and began to decorate the empty spot with objects, often trash, that he found in the neighborhood.
He was a creative spirit, finding joy in the small details of the slowly transforming park.
"He was quite clever," the man told me. "Do you see that big tree branch over there?" He pointed to a large old tree branch, knotted and soft with age, lying on the dry grass. "Look closer." As I drew nearer, I noticed what the man was talking about. Carved into the wood were a pair of eyes and the pointed mouth of a snake. The branch was not just a tree. It was suddenly transformed before my eyes into a large, hissing snake quietly slithering its way across the Hill.
"That is the kind of thing this man did," the man on the bench added. The woman beside him continued, informing me of how the amazing creator of this park did not technically own the vacant lot that he transformed, and the city wanted to built over the area. "But we are still fighting," she said with confidence in her eyes.
They asked me if I went to the Art Institute, a question often asked of me for reasons I do not understand. I told them no, that I was only in high school but wanted to someday be a photographer. "Good for you! Follow your dreams," they said to me kindly. "You are a good kid. You can do it."
I loved the fact that these complete strangers still took the time to talk to and encourage me.
Thanking them, I left the tiny magical park. I walked past the fanciful recycled sculptures, out onto the sidewalk where people greeted each other with boisterous laughter, and returned to my car.
On my way back to my quiet and plain home, I reflected on my sunny morning of taking photographs. The welcoming and pleasant environment on the Hill District had put me in a positive mood.
I realized if we could make every day, every place like Sunday morning in the Hill District, our world would be a much better place. We should greet everyone, both friends and strangers, with equal enthusiasm and friendliness.
We must find the courage to find happiness, even when our dilapidated surroundings are crumbling around us.
We must honor and take pride in our history, never letting it become forgotten.
We should find joy in small details and not fear being our unique selves.
We must have the courage to do as we please, whether it be creating a beautiful makeshift park or dancing and singing in the street.
Driving away under the brilliant blue sky, I took a little piece of that Sunday morning joy from the Hill District with me forever.
Morgan Gilbreath is a junior at Winchester Thurston School. She lives in Observatory Hill.
First Published January 20, 2008 12:00 am