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Gagnon, Szymanski win MLK Jr. Day essay contests

ALPENA — Two Alpena students have won the Martin Luther King Jr. Day essay contests sponsored by the MLK Jr. Committee of Alpena.

In the junior high contest, Aiden Gagnon garnered the top spot for his essay focusing on homelessness.

In the high school contest, Madison Szymanski won for her essay, which will be included in an upcoming edition of The News.

According to MLK Jr. Committee Member Sonya Titus, the essay contest centered around the question, “How do you envision Alpena becoming a more beloved community?”

Martin Luther King Jr. frequently used the term “beloved community” when referring to how the world could be if everyone had equal rights and peace and justice prevailed.

Aiden Gagnon

Gagnon, an 11-year-old sixth grader, was honored to be recognized for his writing.

“I’ve had some pretty amazing writing teachers, and they always told me, if you want to do something, and you really think you can do it, then you should do it,” Gagnon said in a phone interview on Sunday.

“My essay was about how we should spread awareness about homelessness and poverty in our community,” he said. “I think that we should allow people into homeless shelters despite what they have done in their past.”

Gagnon participated in the Walk To End Homelessness in November.

He added that helping out with food drives is a great idea to help address poverty in our community.

His essay is below.

“How We Can End Homelessness”

By Aiden Gagnon

“On August 28th, 1963, A great man told the world about his ideas. One of them was that ‘Poverty, hunger, and homelessness would not be tolerated,’ and the person who said that was none other than the late, great Martin Luther King Jr., a true hero for the early stages of peacemaking that vastly spread around the globe. As stated homelessness was one of the ideas on his list. He wanted homelessness to stop. So to carry off his ideas, I am going to state to you, some of the ways we can put an end to homelessness and poverty in our community. First, we need more non-barrier homeless shelters. Secondly, we need more affordable housing. Once we accomplish that, then we can start taking our plan into action.

“First, I believe we need more non-barrier homeless shelters. Currently our community only has one homeless shelter, and while they do a good job of providing shelter to homeless individuals within our community, they can only assist so many individuals at one time. This has led to a large number of homeless people within our community that aren’t able to stay there. Our community needs to build a place where all individuals and families that are experiencing homelessness are welcomed and are able to receive the assistance they need to become housed. This would alleviate the number of people that are having to stay in places that aren’t meant for humans to live.

“Secondly, we are going to discuss why we need more affordable housing within our community. Alpena currently has a moderate number of income based housing apartment complexes. However the waiting lists for those apartment complexes is incredibly long, and in some cases people have to wait years for an apartment to become available. COVID-19 has made the issue of affordable housing even more important because large numbers of our population have lost their jobs and are struggling to remain in homes that aren’t affordable. If we were able to build more affordable housing in our community this would directly affect the number of homeless people living and struggling to survive here.

“In conclusion, homelessness in our community is common, and it needs to be taken seriously. I think we all need to remember that homeless individuals should not be judged by their current situation. We should still treat them like people, and do what we can to end homelessness/poverty. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to peace and change, we shouldn’t stop carrying his beliefs because in our current situation they are more important than ever.”

A press release detailing the contest guidelines reads, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in a Beloved Community where….

≤ International disputes would be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation;

≤ Love and trust would triumph over fear and hatred;

≤ Peace with justice would prevail over war and military conflict;

≤ Poverty, hunger, and homelessness would not be tolerated;

≤ Racism, discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice would be replaced by a spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”

Each first-place winner earned $200 from the MLK Jr. Committee.

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