Martin Luther King, Jr. Poetry Contest

The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Poetry Contest sponsored by the Diversity Council is open to Olmsted County students in grades 3 - 12. Themes and deadlines are announced each year in October, and winners are announced in January.

3rd-5th Grade Winners

Jefferson Elementary Students

1st Place:  Shay Carroll,  "Vines"


We all started out in different places,


different families,

different countries, different races,

We all are

being pulled by vines.


Pulling us together, we’ll be together forever,




Pulling us together, whether we like it or not

pulling us together,

into a knot

that cannot be untied,

like a shoelace done too tight.


Pulling us together,

closer and closer we get


Pulling us together,


Never, ever,seen.


The vines are as strong as titanium

Still pulling us together,

But in the end…

Were all one world, one humankind,

One time,because

were all connected by the vines.

2nd place:  Isy Kohler,   "Fire"


The Sea of Segregation

Sends down a Wave of Fear upon us

They whisper in our Ears, 

Telling us lies of 


It almost seems to Drown

out Hope.

No matter who you are, 

Or what you Believe in, 

we are all 


Let the 

Fire of hope

Part through rough


When you are

Shrouded in darkness,

Let the fire of 

Hope light the way. 

Burning through all

Misery in your Mind.

Wherever you came from, 

what you believe in, 

Or even if your rich or poor, 

We Are All Human

When your rage

Weighs you down

Deeper and Deeper, 

Let the fire Scorch, and Burn

Your rage back to Nothing.

We will Feed The fire with

Fuel of Freedom,

SO Sparks spread to Flame,

Because The fire will

Never die, Like Our Hope for

Equal Rights

3rd place:  Emilyn Dienger, "Waves"


It crashes down, it makes a wall and makes the courage flee

Replaces everything with fear including you and me.

The wave that crashes topples down like tiny shards of glass.

It crashes, it stirs, it churns, it creates a lot of fright

It makes anything almost intolerable, and makes you hide in fear.

The fear you feel isn’t pleasant, it’s a reminder of the courage you’ve lost.

It crashes down, it cuts away any courage left, drags it down to the deep then you haven’t any courage


When we feel the presence of the wave of fright, we prepare for the worst instead of taking flight, but

when we come on different ships and find each other as one, no matter what race, what culture, what

gender, or where you’re from and realize that we are all equals and we’re in the same boat, we can break

down these walls and get our courage back.

6th-8th Grade Winners

St Francis of Assisi 6th Grade Students

1st place: James Nelson,  "Another Ship Arrives”

Another Ship Arrives

Sailing on the sea of blue

Seeking liberty

Hopeful refugees

Another ship arrives

Guided by a shining star

Fear subsides

Land in view

Another ship arrives


Relief is felt from the wavy seas

Welcoming awaits

Joy anticipates

Another ship arrives


Expressing words yet unspoken

Helpful hands

A simple smile

Another ship arrives


Differences set aside

We are one family

A place to call home

Another ship arrives

2nd place: Rylie Keefe, "We Need"

We Need


We might all be from someplace different but we are joined together now.

We need a vessel

to keep us safe and dry

to bring us to land


We need a captain

to take control of our ship

to lead us home


We need a wheel

to navigate us in the right direction

to steer us in the correct path


We need water

to provide movement for the ship

to push us on our journey


We need paddles

to propel us forward

to make us move faster


We need an anchor

to hold us strong in place

to stabilize our ship


We need land

to give us a home

to bring us some hope


We need passengers

to turn our lives around

to encourage us through the vastness of life

to be together as one

to help us realize the importance of others

to cleanse our hearts

to give us a strong nation

to hold our hopes and dreams.


Alone we may be weak, but together we can conquer the world.

3rd place: Caitlyn Benitez, "This Place We Know Call Home"

This Place We Now Call Home 

Our ships take us across the water

To a land full of the strange and unfamiliar

This is the place we will now call home

No matter where you go

No matter where you stay

It is home.


We dock our feet on the ground we come upon

The ocean waves its waters across the sky as we stroll by

This is the place we will now call home

No matter how young

No matter how old

It is home.


This is a place where our hearts unite

Together our rights we proclaim

No matter where we are

No matter who we are

In this place we will now call home.

9th-12th grade Winners

Mayo High School 10th Graders

1st place: Uma Ashrani, "Mangoes and Mulberries"

Mangoes and Mulberries

What is paradise?

Raising our hands at the same time,

we both know the answer.

(Or, at least, we think we do.)

My brown hand and your white-painted one.

A stark difference, our arms lie in two parallel planes.

They never intersect; they are a chasm apart.

You, I know, carry a checklist, tucked in a hollow of your mouth for safekeeping.

You never let it see the sun. In the dark, mold festers,



You never let your skin see the sun either.

It craves a certain warmth, but by now it is frozen,

liable to chip off at the slightest touch.

I know you dream of assimilation,

of neatly trimmed mulberry trees lining the street,

of cursive flowing over the sidewalks, over a layered coat of white paint,

made by ingredients from your beloved mulberries.

Each coat of paint marks a new dawn,

but your layers of paint are stacked upon each other like minutes in a day.

As far as I can see, the day hasn’t ended yet;

your twenty-four hours are filled with shame and suppression.


I, however, am a gardener,

a preserver of mango trees.

Just like my trees, I know that skin needs sun,

and it is my job to serve the trees who do not get much sun.

This I do.

Uproot them, and let them bathe in waves of light that cascade over the garden.

What is paradise?

The question seeps through your oversaturated brain.

A wet sponge, dripping with toxicity,



White paint is a calamity here because don’t you see? The paint is poison.

Do you know the answer? Is it really you?

In my haze, I curiously envision the idyll that could be,

and I know we are the same.

My brown hands could be indistinguishable from yours once more,

as we both tend the trees.

We would glow with the same divine radiance,

if only you would peel back your white paint.

The sight of the golden mangoes makes you listen,

and for the first day in years, you rest;

you do not repaint the sidewalk white.

2nd place: Kesarin Mehta, "Aye Aye Captain"

“Aye aye, Captain”

My ship came from far away

From a far away land

From a far away lake

But now it has been pirated





But I survived.


Now I live on this ship,

With you…

Destined for a foreign land,

One I care not to visit


Nonetheless, I work the sails

Day in and day out

Because one day…

I will be the captain


Because if you can forget

My ship

My name

My face

Then so can I…

And so I will.

So the fact that your skin burns

And mine does not

Will become irrelevant

As neither of us can remember why

So before you indulge

The next ship you find


Who will be the captain?

3rd place: Grace Pignolo, "Speak"


Silence is the crime of our time.

Eloquent are words used even if battered and bruised,

Still better than words unused.

So we should not refuse to choose,

Or lose our voice under others’ shoes,

Which is not to be excused.

People on our ship in distress,

We must not digress, we must redress.


When others defuse our sound,

Because of wandering pretenses crowned,

They have yet to understand we are not so different.

One earth, this ocean, our sacred middle ground.

Our hope abounds, your waves of conflict poison our passage,

For on the merry-go-round, not all safe and sound.

Different ships, yes that may be,

But all cradled in the arms of the sea, our protector found.

For in a boat we all must stay,

As our ships of prejudice sail away.

The bold dream of equality imagined by the one,

Said by the one, so all could come to know,

Truth the earth was too slow to show.

Where we all must grow,

Is to incite, with light; foresee not to betray thee,

But do not let inequality be.

2018 Winners

                                Theme: “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear."

  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


First Place

1st Place
Isy Kohler
Jefferson Elementary
4th Grade
“As Strong As Iron”

A flood, A hurricane, Washing away all hope and equal 
rights Winds howling, Houses ripping into shreds, 
death,loss,fear,the things that feed this mighty storm
 with humongous waves of despair only to be harmless
 compared to hope. 

The thing that feeds the heart,
the thing that makes weak to strong, 
the poor the Rich,and for lost ones to be found,
the dams that hold this big world together,
but still the world is full of loss and despair 

Though the weak sometimes never grow strong,
 and sometimes some people are TO lost to be found, 
and some people can never fledge 
and take flight to see and raise the hope in this world, 
that they only see the waves of lost 
hope and weakness,the winds of fear.

So we must raise the city of hope
 and peace, still standing,and batter the waves 
with our courage, reverse the winds 
with  laughter,For let world peace stand as strong as iron
forevermore and build this hill of equal rights 
to a mountain that never crashes down


2nd Place
Nisha Wetter
Jefferson Elementary
5th Grade
“My Branches”

My branches
Weave and repair
The cracks of
Fear that
Have crept 
Through our barrier

They are a map
Of defeat
And victory
Courage and fear

We must have
Courage and
Weave out our fear,
For it is holding us back

Courage is like
My branches,
They keep living
Even if
Their leaves are gone

Fear is like
The weeds,
Slithering up,
Trying to block us

But my branches
Weave past it
And rise above it

My branches,
Strong, sturdy, stable,
And unstoppable,
Give life to courage

My branches
Weave and make
A path for us
A path that leads us
Away from fear


3rd Place
Kaitlyn Ballard
St. Francis of Assisi
4th Grade
“Girl with a Dream”

I am a girl
And I want to see
A world that is fair
For you and me.

I am a girl
And I want to do
Acts of courage
Standing for what’s true.

I am a girl 
And I can think
Ideas are powerful
And fears can shrink.

I am a girl
And I can speak
My words are loud
There is truth to seek.

I am a girl 
And I want to grow
Into a woman
With love to show.

I am a girl 
And I have a dream 
I stand not alone 
For we are a team.

Honorable Mention
Ella Davis
Jefferson Elementary
5th Grade

The ground is icy cold against my bloody cheek
A bladed leather whip struck my back
For what it had felt like… a thousand times
The whip fearless, my soul, fearful

Though something grew in my body
It raged as if it were a fearsome lion waiting to be free

Courage, courage, courage
The word replicating in my head
But growing in my mouth
The idea filled all the space in my brain
Collapsing my thoughts of fear

The icy cold ground now only touched
My strong, sturdy, steel feet
My head was reaching as high as a mountain
With the view of the sun, filled with freedom
The mountain acting as a barricade
Made for blocking my old fear

The bladed leather whip now lies on the floor
Broken… into a million pieces

Honorable Mention
Abigail Wordelman
Hoover Elementary
4th Grade
“The Army of Courage”

We all should be in the same
army of love and courage to defeat
this world of fear

Even if we have our differences
we are all on the same side to make
this world wonderful

This world of hate can change with 
an army of passion if we all work

Even if we look different we should
be treated the same to make this world
take a step closer to being amazing

It may be fearful and dreadful but
we can get through it together


Honorable Mention
Mattea Try
Jefferson Elementary
5th Grade
“We As One”

We all climb our mountains.
We all create monuments.
But to get to our victories,
We as one people
Must create our dikes of courage
To hold out the
Waves of fear.
We as one
Will taste the vile salt of sweat,
Will the blood run from our cuts,
Feel the anger, rage and sadness that flows through us.
But the Dove’s shimmering silver feathers heal all our scars
The visible, and those we cannot see.
Then she calls for us,
Her cry louder than a lion’s roar.
From where she calls, the stars weep for us,
Their silvery tears falling like autumn leaves.
We as one people
Will build our dikes of courage.
I know we will.
As one,
We flutter with fright
Fidgeting, fearful for the future.
But we have set our hearts on the stars,
On the fearless white feathered bird.
One day,
We as one, will build our dikes of courage
To cross the sea of fear.
We as one people,
See the promised land.
The Jordan stands larger than an ocean.
But we will cross it.


Middle School

First Place

Helen Girma
St. Francis of Assisi
6th Grade
“Be the Warrior”

The flood is coming
Ruling the innocent hearts
A forceful tyrant
Defeating us all
Authority is not ours
We allow its ways
A storm of power
Petrified to confront it
We obey instead
Terror is brewing
Seeking to overpower
The fear is coming
We need a hero
With an antidote for fear
Courage standing tall
Daring soul to help
Slay the basilisk of fright
Be the warrior

2nd Place
Thalia Kohler
Friedell Middle School
6th Grade

Fear bites, just like this bitter cold as I wait outside to be picked up from school.
School bites, poking and prodding at your insecurities.
This year bites, being the new girl isn’t that easy.
Sometimes life seems to pull you down deeper and deeper.
Dogs bite, when they are afraid.
Snakes bite, when they want more.
Cats bite, because they are sensitive.
Sometimes life seems to pull you down deeper and deeper.
Cold may bite but that’s why we wear a jacket.
School may bite but that’s why we wear a smile.
This year may bite but that’s what new beginnings are for.
You are strong.
Instead of being afraid, take the hand.
Instead of wanting more, give more.
Instead of being sensitive, consider others.
We are strong.
Now I bite my lip as I write this poem because I am scared of what people will think.
That’s why I have courage.

3rd Place
Rachel Taunton
St. Francis of Assisi
6th Grade
“We Are”

We are a town of many different people. Grocers and Bankers, rich and poor.

We are a nation of many different people. Black and White, young and old.

We are a continent of many different people. Americans, Canadians, Mexicans.

We are a universe of many different people. Existent and deceased, God and children.

We must work to
                         And strive together to beat the fear.



Honorable Mention 

Zara Boon 

Byron Middle School 

6th Grade 

"Hold Your Ground" 


I stand, 


facing the wave 

of horror before me 

I have but myself, 

and nothing else 

Just me against 

the negativity, fear, and 

doubt in the world 

As despair descends upon me, 

a warm hand touches my shoulder 

Looking, I see a 

throng behind me 

I realize I am 

not alone, and so, 

we hold our ground, 

facing the flood, 


Honorable Mention
Jason Ballard
St. Francis of Assisi
6th Grade
“I Dream of Courage”

We should all save mankind
For mankind is turning blind
The fear is attacking us!
So everyone should discuss
For the truth is hard to find
We shall stand for courage
And no one is to be discouraged
Be honest and brave
For there are many souls to save
We should aspire and be encouraged
I feel the cold flood of fears
Loud waves, crashing in my ears
Only courage can stop the flood
Like a dam, built out of mud
Holding back the sweat and tears
Hate! And blood flows like a stream
Help! For courage is not as easy as it may seem
United! Under God, a singler nation
Awake! We are the next generation
Repeat ! I have a dream

Honorable Mention
Owen Sutton
St. Francis of Assisi
6th Grade

Everyone is diverse
Everyone is remarkable
Everyone has boldness
Yet, despite our diversity, remarkableness, and boldness
Everyone will experience times of struggle and despair.
Courage will be lost.
In the lost days
Everyone works to build dikes of courage
Everyone remains to support
Everyone bonds in strength
In the healing days
Everyone strives to rebuild
Everyone pursues renovation
Everyone seeks restoration
In the just days
Everyone bathes in peace
Everyone relishes a lion-hearted spirit
Everyone molds their best self
Everyone is treated with dignity and equality
Everyone conquers the flood of fear
Which everyone are you?

Honorable Mention
Chiara Lovely
St. Francis of Assisi
6th Grade
“We Fight”

First shot is fired
Fear strikes in our hearts
We fight for Freedom
Screaming in anguish
Lost in a world of chaos
We fight for Justice
Someone heard the voice
A proud, non-violent call,
We fight for our Hope
The king holds his ground
As his house is burning down
We fight for our Strength
Mothers and Fathers,
Sisters with Brothers hold tight
We fight for our Love
King spoke sincerely
“I have a dream,” he preaches
We fight for our Peace
To end all fear,
We Fight


High School


First Place

Harmanpreet Kaur
Century High School
Grade 12
“The Walls of Courage”

I walk to the front of the room.
I feel the stares as I refuse to look up.
I think of all the things people must be thinking.

I look up straight into a pair of brown eyes
A smile forms on her lips
While a small smile begins to form on mine

I am brave.
She is brave.
He is brave.
Yet, we all are scared

Of what?

We are scared of the uncertainty,
Scared of the other person,
Scared of ourselves.

Instead, we should build up the courage
To stand up
To see the limitless opportunities at our hand
To block the fear
And see the love. The braveness. The kindness. The passion.

The world.

As I build of the courage, I share this with others.
I encourage my friend to speak up.
I encourage a stranger to smile.
She encourages me to continue.
He encourages her to block out the fear.

We all help one another
Build the wall of courage
And with all these walls,
No flood will break them down.


2nd Place
Kesarin Mehta
Mayo High School
Grade 9
“The Price of Uno”

All of us five
Sitting ‘round a table
Never have I felt so alive
Or felt so able

To be myself
All it took was a deck of Uno cards
Two brothers
A mother
Two sisters
And me, someone new
This mutual feeling was among us few
It burned in our dark bodies bright and true
This feeling was unspoken
Until maybe after
But during then
The room was filled with shouts and laughter

In these moments I truly felt at home
A new feeling which I had never known
Happiness radiated from our skin to our bone
No longer would I be alone

But what is the cost
For this kind of day
All that was lost
Just to be able to play
To be free
To be happy

Over 400 years of
Floods of blood

Of forgotten names
False claims
Extinguished flames
Even though we’re all the same

Beneath the skin

With systems made to keep us down
To make sure our heads stay in the ground
To keep our hands far from the crown

All met with patience
Ramparts of solidarity

For the most part
Progress has been made
In this day and age
When the ultimate price is paid.

Draw two
Courage for both me and you
One final card left to be played

Can I finally say it?
Have we finally made it?
In the end,
Was it really all worth it?

3rd Place
Ilhan Raage
Century High School
Grade 11
“Stronger Than Fear”

Admit it 
You're afraid 
 Of catastrophes and calamities 
And all the other everyday things 
Of being the next victim of racism and bigotry 
Don't shush me 
I know what I see 
You avert your gaze 
When you see homes and lives up in blaze 
You can't stand seeing humanity's fall from grace 
So, you continue on with a straight face 
Still, the tide of terror rises, higher and higher 
Until it becomes more than a flood,  
An ocean of fear that begins to devour us whole 
And, forget dikes, we've built walls upon walls 
Too high over our heads to see  
The ultimate price of our mistakes 
We convinced ourselves that 
our humanity makes us weak 
An hourglass shattered, spilling blood instead of sand 
The time of change is passing us by 
With every tick of the hour hand 
We've let ourselves down again 
Not knowing that the very essence  
of our being is woven  
together with resilience 
and every time our hearts beat 
strength flows through our veins 
courage is in our bones 
This is not an epiphany 
We've known it all along 
In the face of every tragedy 
We search for a way to belong 
We must become dikes.  
Prove that all our blood is the same 
That every heart beats with the same vigor 
Our single aim  
You see,  
We must become united by our humanity

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© 2018 Diversity Council