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Western Montana students celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. with words, art
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Western Montana students celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. with words, art


Every year Missoula's MLK Day Celebration Committee honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by engaging the community in dialogue about race and justice through a virtual, intergenerational and community-led celebration.

This year's event will feature the annual Youth Art and Essay Contest based on MLK quotes, a keynote address from Dr. Carlton P. Byrd (pastor, professor, and civil rights activist), art and music presented by local artists Andre Floyd, Jeremiah Coutts, Elijah Jalil Paz Fisher, and calls to action from local youth leaders, Samantha Francine and Lucy Mills-Low. This virtual event will be streamed live on EmpowerMT's Youtube Channel on Jan. 18, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Dr. King remains a central figure in our nation’s ongoing dialogue on race and equality and although we are not able to gather in person this year to celebrate his legacy, honoring his work is needed more than ever in the current moment. Through service, action, lecture and art, the MLK Day celebration provide an examination of the legacy of Dr. King, equity issues locally and nationally, and ways to bridge divides and resolve differences.

This year’s MLK Day Youth Art and Essay Contest, as well as the larger celebration centers around two Dr. King, quotes:

“And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? ... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

“The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”

There are donation opportunities for supporting the important time of community members to organize and coordinate the event, as well as covering the cost of hosting and providing the event free to the Missoula community. Donations from individuals and businesses throughout the community are the fuel that powers this celebration.

You can learn more at


Kindergarten through second grade

First place, essay 

Jasper Stonesifer, Missoula International School

Lov and haet ar not the same. cindnis and lov shood alwes bee togethr or the wrld wood bee a pleys ov hate and darcnis.   

Second place, essay

Oliver Silverman, Missoula International School

Pretend that we were all bananas and someone peeled us. We would all look the same. We may look different on the outside but we’re the same on the inside.

Third through fifth grade

First place, essay

Wylie Pohl Smith, Sussex School

After reading the quote I feel as though if I closed my eyes I imagine how the black people felt as if all that was around me was making me melt like ice in the sun and how the white people felt as they rose to power like the moon over all but they wanted more and began to tower like clouds blocking the sun from all to see. 

Second place, essay

Ruby Stone, Sussex School

I believe things can change for black people and white people too. From this day forward I will try to be just like you. I will stand up for friends and me. From this day forward I will have full humanity. This is from Ruby, I will stand up for you! 

Third place, essay (tie)

Third place, essay

Salimata Diaby, Paxson Elementary School

A poem on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech



Injustice is not fair

Revolt will continue to shake the government until the bright day of justice emerges.

Love and justice for all.

Whirlwinds of revolt



Disgust to black people

Niko Marcel Ayers, Paxson Elementary School

Equal Rights

Equal rights mean a lot to me. It can mean much to other people but to me it means for everyone for be treated the same no matter their color or religion. I like Martin Luther King because of all the inspiring speeches he did, like “I Have a Dream.” I like the way the speeches pull you in and how all the words make it powerful and the way it makes you believe to make things better.

Middle School

First place, essay

Ellette Whitcomb, Sussex School

Justice Emerging

This country is in turmoil as our leaders continue to try and silence the people of this country. People speaking out for their rights, and the rights of others. Protests are held in the streets. Peaceful, and violent, held to bring awareness to the fact that Black lives matter. Held so that people can have a choice. So that they can have a voice instead of being silenced by everyone around them.

These protests for rights are frightening many people. Because they are afraid of how people are standing up for themselves. Because they are afraid of the violent riots people are holding, that they were forced to hold if they wanted to be heard. Because when they were peacefully protesting, no one was listening.

Many people are confused, saying that all lives matter, not just Black people's. That used to be my immediate reaction also. But white people aren't the ones being targeted by people because of their color. Being shot and killed or dying from someone's knees on their neck. That's what's happening to Black people, and that is what many, including me, are trying to change.

My White ancestors started this, their crimes are in my blood. But that doesn't mean I have to be them. I believe it's my generation's job to make sure that Black people are truly, completely seen as equals. To end the idea of a normal or status quo. I am young, but I am bold.

And I will do what's right.

Second place, essay

Michael Anthony Vatoussis, Missoula International School

Shake the Foundations

When you look at a person's face,

what do you see,

you see a story,

you see a whole universe that was hidden

What are we meant to tell?

A story that was passed from

generation by generation?

When you look at a person's face,

what is the feeling of their pain and

How does it connect with yours?

What have they felt,

what has the world felt?

When the world shakes,

we feel it because we are the world.

And the world has been scared and bruised,

punished and told right from wrong,

It doesn't matter what you are,

who you are

You are part of the world.

And when we look at your face and see the colors

And the brightness within your heart

We are lifted to a better, more open place.

When you look at a person's face,

when you see the love they have shared, the

pain they have felt, it is a warming feeling.

It is a feeling of empathy.

We can fix the world, the scars,

the broken history,

Because we are the world.

We feel the world being abused and broken.

We fight through seeing clearly.

We fight to shake the foundations

And see in a new way.

When you look at a person's face what do you see?

Third place, essay

Emelia Berg, Sussex School

Unheard Pleas

People who are not listened to

Have to shout


Than anyone

Over everyone

To be heard

If they speak you don't hear

What is your language?

Now people are fighting back sprinting

Trying to get back the head start that has held them back

For all of our history


For the country isn't listening to their pleas for mercy

Plea's for the lives that have been ruined

A shout doesn't stand as strong as the darkness

They revolt

Strong as the darkness

Bright as star

And still not enough

Stronger with each sign each person who stands up for all people

Because differences make us powerful

If we were all the same why would we live for

We would have no secrets no stories to be told

No sharing tales by the fire

So revolt shout and add your words

To the bonfire

High School

First place, essay

Amy Boote, Sentinel High School

"The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges."

Martin Luther King Jr.'s words transcend time. Despite all of the civil rights demonstrations during his life, true equality in America has yet to be seen. Black Americans are still punished by our criminal justice system at rates many times higher than white Americans. Throughout the year, thousands have taken to the streets protesting this fact, protesting the unjust killing of George Floyd and many others by police. Unfortunately, many Americans have reacted negatively to these legitimate protests to injustice, sparking political division that threatens to tear the country apart. Fair election results have been disputed, but most shockingly and horrifyingly, the existence of inequality, of systemic racism, has become a partisan, politically divided issue. The foundations of the United States, our so-called model of a country, are being shaken. Cracks are forming. Americans glare and scream hate across the ever-widening gap between tribes. And all of this is happening in the midst of a global pandemic, which has hit the U.S. like a battering ram, exposing the racial injustices of our country even more starkly. Significantly more Black Americans have contracted COVID-19 than whites, resulting in more deaths caused by our racist society. Will the systemic racism in our country ever be truly and fully addressed, with such division between Americans? It is far from clear. We can only hope for a future where, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, there is no need for the whirlwinds of revolt, and the bright day of justice will finally emerge.

Second place, essay

Mollena Winter Sydnor, Ronan High School

"And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? ... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity." — MLK Jr.

America, I sing you back

Back to big, lonely, rolling plains, waves of green, yellow, brown grass 

And crystal blue sky touching, touching unbroken at the horizon

To evergreen and deciduous woods where the air is clean with the dirty smell of soil,

And the moist green leaves and needles photosynthesizing

Back to great lazy meandering rivers, powerful in their slow pace

And creeks and lakes and oceans of clean, unpolluted waters

And America, I sing you not only back, but forward

Forward to the time when mothers won't pray for their sons' safety

Knowing they are targets only because of their ethnicity

And their sons won't have to pray

When they see flashing lights in the rearview mirror

Forward to when those from our planet

Fleeing from poverty and war and running to keep their families safe

Will not be called illegal aliens

But welcomed with open arms

Forward to our fellow citizens can love whoever they love

Identify with who they are

And do so freely and proudly

Will we one day see

The weight of perfection lifted off of women's heads?

Those older than us say that our children are our future and really mean it?

Will we be empowered?

Maybe one day

We can learn that being right and convincing others they are wrong

Gets us nowhere

But learning to listen, have conversations, find common ground

Will rebuild our nation

Now we are the Divided States of America

But one day,

Our voices will rise together in a mighty roar

A choir of echoing power

It is already starting

We will be United

Third place, essay

Jocelyn Fleig, Ronan High School

I really like when he says “And I must say tonight that a riot is language of the unheard.”

Today in this day and age us young people have a lot to say but adults really don’t want to hear it because “we are too young” but they say “we are the future.” So why can’t they take a moment and ask our opinions on things. We should be old enough to make our own decisions. To know what’s right and wrong. To help one another. To have our own take on things. So if “we are the future” why can’t adults treat us like it. We are our own people. We aren’t always going to see eye to eye on things, but that’s what makes us our selves.


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