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Szymanski focuses on love in winning MLK essay

ALPENA — Alpena High School junior Madison Szymanski believes that small acts of love can lead to a better community.

She took first place in the high school division of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day essay contest, sponsored by the MLK Jr. Committee of Alpena. The honor came with a $200 reward.

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.

Szymanski, 16, was unreachable by phone for comment, but her winning essay is included below.

“Martin Luther King Jr. believed that a beloved community was one in which love triumphed over hate. When the majority of people think about Martin Luther King Jr. they instantly remember his ‘I have a dream’ speech and may feel a bit overwhelmed, like if we can’t do something that massive then are we even truly having an impact on the world? But the truth is, we all have the power to change the world and create a beloved community among all people. It only takes one small action to make others feel loved, it only takes one person and one action to create a ripple effect that will transcend time. After all, the speech Dr. King gave wasn’t written in a day, change takes time, but if we start now, it won’t be long.

“A beloved community is one in which everyone is made to feel special and loved. My neighbor Mr. Gentry sets the perfect example of attainable ways we can all create a beloved community. I am a runner, so is Mr. Gentry. After each of my races, Mr. Gentry cuts out a copy of the newspaper and writes an encouraging letter. This simple act of kindness has a profound effect on the receiver, I feel important and like I have an impact on someone else’s life just by him writing a quick letter. In turn, this inspires me to do the same for my teammates, sister, and anyone else who could use some encouragement and love. Mr. Gentry has taught me how to pay love forward, that is the true way to create a beloved community.

“Consider a time in your life when someone made you feel loved. Maybe it was someone close to you but perhaps it was a complete stranger. I have experienced the love and encouragement of individuals I didn’t know reaching out to congratulate and wish me well. That kind of love and support shows a true beloved community, where people will reach out to others that they don’t know in an effort to show their love for them. A beloved community should be one where we don’t have to know the person to let them know they are loved, where we don’t have to think twice about taking a few minutes that we would’ve spent on our phones to write someone a letter, and one where love prevails over all else.

“Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.’

“In order to turn society into a beloved community we need to be patient, it’s a process. We need to address the problems at hand and in ourselves find a way that we can each spark change. But most importantly, we need to act upon this change. This can’t be like another new year’s resolution that we give up on in a week, we need to stick this one out. In order to create a beloved community we will need to consciously find ways to spread love and pay forward the love that we receive. This year, let us all find it within ourselves to stick to this resolution, to create a beloved community.”

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