MLK Youth Art & Essay Contest

MLK Day - The Lynn Schwanke Youth Art & Essay Contest

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The Lynn Schwanke Youth Art and Essay Contest

Every year, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, EmpowerMT in partnership with the Missoulian and the Missoula MLK Day Celebration Committee hosts a Youth Art & Essay Contest for youth across Western Montana to create art that celebrates Dr. King’s legacy. EmpowerMT’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) chooses powerful quotes from Dr. King that serve as prompts for participants. YAC also selects winning art and essays that are judged in age categories based on school grade (K-2nd, 3rd-5th, 6th-8th, 9th-12th). For MLK Day 2023, the quote selected for the Youth Art & Essay Contest is:

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

Discussion Tips:  Discussion and interpretation of this quote is highly encouraged.  Discussion questions could include:

  • What does true peace look like to you?
  • What is justice?
  • Are peace and justice the same thing?  How are they different?

The Story Behind the Quote

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his account of the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott in his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. In the book he writes:

Montgomery was an easygoing town; it could even have been described as a peaceful town. But the peace was achieved at the cost of human servitude.

Many months later, an influential white citizen of Montgomery was to protest to me:

Over the years we have had such peaceful and harmonious race relations here. Why have you and your associates come in to destroy this long tradition?’

My reply was simple: ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘you have never had real peace in Montgomery. You have had a sort of negative peace in which the Negro too often accepted his state of subordination. But this is not true peace. True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice. The tension we see in Montgomery today is the necessary tension that comes when the oppressed rise up and start to move forward toward a permanent, positive peace.’”

Youth as Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement

Did you know that thousands of children marched for the Civil Rights Movement and helped end racial segregation? The Children’s Crusade was a famous march where hundreds of brave children marched to end segregationist policies in Birmingham, Alabama. Other children marched in Washington, DC too. Young voices can help us move forward into the kind of future we all want to see! This example might provide inspiration for the art and writing contest.  Suggested ideas: We don’t have to march to help make a change. We can also help make a change through kindness and trying to help end bullying and racism among our peers. Students can write or create art about times that they were leaders, such as times they spoke out to help someone else, a time when someone helped them, or they can talk about ideas for how to keep moving society forward so that racism no longer exists. 

Follow this link for more resources on MLK, Jr.:

Past Year’s Winners of the Art & Essay Contest