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MLK essay contest winners share what made their stories stand out

Dozens of students participated in contest, but three won

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Brooklyn Reeves is in the fifth grade and Aria Brown is a sophomore in High School. They are two of the three winners behind the MLK essay contest. Out of the dozens of participants in this year's contest, their writing captured the hearts and minds of the judges. 

"This is huge, I love it," Reeves smiled. 

Their essay was based on a quote from Dr. King, "If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." To Reeves, its about helping others in need. Specifically, her mother. 

"I wrote about how my mom got cancer and how I thought about some ways I can help her recover faster," Reeves explained. 

As for Brown, she dove into the challenges of being a leader. The high school student is involved in multiple organizations. She has aspirations to attend FAMU and its marching band. 

"Managing my time was a really big problem for me last year," Brown explained. "Learning how to manage my time, being involved in a bunch of clubs and sports is very important." 

The two will attend the 35th annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast. There, Reeves and Brown will be recognized as "Tomorrow's Leaders", someone who represents Dr. King's philosophies. Brown and Reeves shared what they would talk about if the civil rights icon was still alive. 

"Mostly what kept him going and why he kept persevering through the hardships when there were plenty of opportunities to give up" Brown said. 

"First thing, I'd give him a hug," Reeves said. "Second, I'd ask him how did it feel to do all of that and go through all of that." 

Jacksonville's annual MLK breakfast will be a virtual event, this year. It will stream live on YouTube, Friday. First Coast News' Anthony Austin will co-host it. 

Read the winning essays below. 

Brooklyn Reeves' winning submission:

Share and describe an example of a time when you did something small in a great way. Did you help someone? Did you accomplish something small that you’re proud of?

A long time ago Martin Luther King spoke up and made a huge difference in the Civil Rights Movement. He said “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”. People throughout time have done small things that had major impacts. I did too. This is the small thing I did that resulted in a huge impact.

One day my mom got cancer and she got really weak. When she told me and my sister I got really scared. After she told us we read books about cancer. We read about how some people lose their hair with cancer and how they can become really tired. The next day I thought about how I could help my mom recover. The first thought that came to mind is how she takes care of my baby sister. She takes her a bath, dresses her in the morning, does her hair, and then she takes all of us to school. I started to wake my baby sister up in the morning. I took her baths and got her dressed for school. All mom had to do was take us to school.

She was getting her strength back fast. After a few weeks my mom was feeling better. I could not take cancer away but my small thing made a huge impact. I am proud that I helped my mom recover faster from cancer.

Aria Brown's winning submission:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was young, gifted, and black. He was a model student who entered college at age 15. While he was destined for greatness, he was not immune from the racial prejudice he experienced during his youth. He wanted to make a difference in the lives of Black citizens who were subjected to injustices, inferiority, and inhumane treatment throughout the United States. His initial intent was to make small contributions, to help from the pulpit of his local church. However, in 1955, he would become the face of the Civil Rights Movement. Through his leadership and sacrifice, as well as his love of God and his fellowman, he changed the course of life for all Americans, and their future generations.

When you see me, I hope you see the content of character Dr. King dreamt of. During any opportunity where I can serve others, I remind myself, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”  Dr. King’s words encourage me to serve my home, community, and school. Little did I know when I submitted an Ambassador application in sixth grade at Julia Landon College Prep, I would have such a great impact on others. As an Ambassador, I represent my school as a student leader and conduct tours for prospective students. Now, as a 15-year-old sophomore at Wolfson High School, I am experiencing my fifth consecutive year as an Ambassador and I would not change that for the world. Conducting tours for families is so enriching as it allows me to present an image of Wolfson that cannot be created by the administration. Being one of the first faces many children and parents see when they walk through Wolfson’s front doors, can offer a level of comfort. I am proud to be the diversity, excellence and hope that is Wolfson.

In addition to being an Ambassador, I serve on Wolfson’s Student Government Association, Black History Club, Marching Band, and am a lettered athlete. In April 2021, I attended the Duval County Council of PTAs’ Student Leadership Academy. I also currently serve on the Mayor’s Young Leaders Advisory Council where I work with other high school students to offer solutions to city leaders regarding issues that plague Jacksonville youth. Although I am only a sophomore, I have earned 100+ community service hours. My most meaningful service experiences have been distributing food with Feeding Northeast Florida and Farm Share, Inc. during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Serving on the front lines during four events in 2021, when people were hurting and uncertain was humbling. I often believed my small act of filling trunks with food was unimportant until I saw the gratitude of the families who received my help. I am incredibly proud of my service. Whether at school as an Ambassador or in the community distributing food, I may not be great yet but, I hope Dr. King would be pleased with the potential for greatness that he inspired in me.

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