9 Ways Kids Keep Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream Alive

Fifty years after King received the Nobel Peace Prize, youth continue to spread the civil rights leader’s message.

Fifty years ago, on October 14, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr., received the Nobel Peace Prize. The award came a year after the civil rights leader’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., and months after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. King learned about the recognition while at an Atlanta hospital for a checkup and accepted the award weeks later in Oslo, Norway. His 12-minute acceptance speech touched on themes of nonviolence, freedom, and peace.

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits,” King said during his speech.

Decades later, young people continue to sustain King’s galvanizing message through artistic and civic expression. Here are nine ways students have advanced King’s work with essays, performances, and murals.

1. Brittany Paschall’s essay on “silent bubbles”—barriers that she says inhibit the togetherness that King often promoted—tied for first place in a 2013 Vanderbilt University essay contest.

“Education also means accepting the fact that we are all teachers and that what we teach is up to us. Regardless of the setting, education will help us realize the limiting lenses that our silent bubbles place over our lives.”

2. “Speak out! Shout!” That’s how Marcos Pinto-Leite, a middle-school student in Connecticut, incorporated King’s legacy into his spoken word performance against bullying.

3. In an essay from a contest in King County, Washington, Rae Hirshfeld-Smith challenged readers to act selflessly and question stereotypes.

“Dr. King says that it is our responsibility to make the personal choice of whether or not to be the person who takes actions not just for themselves, but also for other people.”

4. Since 2002, the MLK Community Mural Project—MLK, in this case, is short for Moving the Lives of Kids—brings young artists together to create pieces that celebrate identity, history, and community. Murals are located in United States, as well as in Brazil and Haiti.

A mural in Haiti facilitated by Moving the Lives of Kids

5. In her take on the “I Have a Dream” speech, Cynthia Amoah’s spoken word poetry celebrates those following their own paths.

6. Pittsburgh-area students who won a local MLK essay contest earlier this year had a chance to share a bit of their writing in one of five radio commercials.

“I can help to fulfill Dr. King’s dream by treating everyone the same, no matter who they are.”

7. Though much has changed since King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, Arlington, Texas, high school student Eric Wagner wrote in an award-winning essay that fulfilling the civil rights leader’s vision of equality is far from finished.

“Despite the substantial change in destroying segregation in the African-American community, much can still be done today to advance the dream given to inspire others of continual change for betterment and equality.”

8. In a snippet from the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the Kid President commands the crowd to do one thing: Keep dreaming.

9. In 115 words, third-grade student Alexander Graham’s call for peace will make you smile. Guaranteed.

“When I am not violent I feel proud and happy for myself. Being peaceful makes friends to play with, to laugh with, to eat lunch with, and to learn with.”