In the wake of civil rights tributes such as the movie Selma, the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. was honored on a local scale with Howard County’s Dr. King-themed essay contest. Seniors Maddie Bennett and Dominick Gaimaro showed both skill and understanding in the countywide competition, winning first and third place, respectively.
The Howard County Human Rights Commission sponsored the event, titled, “The Fierce Urgency of Now.” A winning essay would have to expertly depict a moment where he or she aided another in comparison to Dr. King. Relating to a civil rights powerhouse like Martin Luther King Jr. is no easy feat, but Bennett and Gaimaro accomplished just that.
“I was very surprised,” Gaimaro said in regard to his third place win. This contest was the first writing competition Gaimaro won.
“I’ve only won fishing competitions before,” Gaimaro said. With his win came a personalized plaque and $200 in prize money. He plans on saving the money and putting it towards college. Bennett, the first place winner of $300, has other plans.
“I’m a responsible person, so I think I’ll spend half [of the money] on something I need like softball gear, and the other half on a show at the Hippodrome,” answered Bennett.
When questioned about the content of their essays, Gaimaro and Bennett revealed thought-provoking personal accounts.
“I focused on his civil disobedience,” Gaimaro explained, “and how much he wanted to help people. I talked about all the people who helped me in my life.”
Gaimaro went on to explain the act of helping others throughout various times in his life. “I remember helping a friend in elementary school who was being bullied. Now I mostly help my best friend whenever she’s frustrated and has anxiety.”
Bennett’s story reflected the conflicting politics of helping others. “I wrote about my experience at a center for adults with mental disabilities and social obligation,” she said. She also revealed how many of the old patients at the mental health center were rather racist. This conflict made her question whether everyone deserves to be helped.
“It made me ponder,” Bennett said. Her dilemma is displayed in her title, “Dr. King, Am I Doing This Right?” In the end, Bennett reached an altruistic conclusion: help should be given anyway.
“They were incapable of functioning,” Bennett said.
The complex themes Bennett and Gaimaro explored leave no question as to why their pieces won in the competition.
The contest did not end there. Both Bennett and Gaimaro were honored at a ceremony held in the Smith Theater at Howard Community College on Jan. 19, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Their emotions ranged from excited to nervous in anticipation of the event.
At the event, Bennett said, “I’m was kind of nervous, but it’s amazing to have your writing recognized.” At the ceremony, sections of their pieces were read aloud. Both winners revealed some anxiety about this, considering they did not know which excerpts would be read. Overall, however, the ceremony proved a worthwhile experience.
“I loved the keynote speaker,” Bennett added, “It was just so interesting because I’ve never attended something like that before.”
With Selma receiving attention and a nomination at the Oscars, Bennett and Gaimaro are another example of civil rights still alive today.