Focus 21st Century Minority Leadership is hosting an art, poem and essay contest this month for local students in preparation for its Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration at noon Jan. 18.

Categories for the contest are by school level: elementary students can create artwork, middle school students can write a poem or essay, and high school students can pen a 500-word essay about the theme, "What freedom means to me."

Three students from each school will win awards, according to Focus president Tom Bell. First place will get a $25 prize and award, second place will get a gift certificate and award, and third place will win an award.

Entries are due Jan. 13 to the Christian County Board of Education on Glass Avenue. Schools will be notified of winners Jan. 15, and awards will be presented during the celebration at noon Jan. 18 at Hopkinsville Community College auditorium and art gallery.

Bell said the 2019-2020 class of the Focus minority leadership program came up with the contest in an effort to connect youth with King's dream of freedom and equality.

"The last part of his speech was 'Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last,'" Bell said. "That's freedom to vote, freedom to go to schools, and freedom to act economically, and even buy a home wherever you want -- we don't need to take any of that for granted."

Bell said today's youth didn't get to experience marching or knocking on doors firsthand like he did as a young boy, so events like this and the annual MLK Day March help reiterate what it took to get certain rights and freedoms.

"The theme is so important because we live in such a great nation and a lot of the things we take for granted could leave us," he said. "There are certain things that happened in this nation that we don't want to go back to or take for granted what so many people worked for."

Along with the award ceremony, Christian County High School senior Tyquez Douglas will recite King's "I Have a Dream Speech." Douglas began reciting the iconic speech at local events at 8 years old, according to New Era archives.

Hopkinsville High and Christian County High schools choirs will both perform selections at the event, and keynote speaker will be HCC President Dr. Alissa Young.

"We're excited that Dr. Young is going to be the keynote speaker on that afternoon," Bell said. "The minority student union at HCC is going to help us with the reception and with displaying the art."

Bell said he hopes the Saturday event will give some momentum to Hopkinsville's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day March and School Challenge that Monday morning. The march will begin 9:30 a.m. Jan. 20 at the Boys and Girls Club on Walnut Street. The crowd will depart at 10 a.m. and end the march with a service at First Street Baptist Church. The school with the most students participating in the march will get possession of the traveling trophy and a reward of their own.

"We try to come alongside that school to see what they want as their reward," Bell said of the 12th annual school challenge. "Last year we took the kids from (Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School) to the movie theatre and watched last sequel of 'How to Tame a Dragon' and they got popcorn."

Bell, who sponsors the reward through his business Tom Bell State Farm Insurance, said he feels an obligation to not only participate but also help organize because of his appreciation for King's efforts.

"I close my business on that day," he said. "It's a federal holiday, and I'm not obligated to participate, but I feel a burden to because a lot of what I'm experiencing is because of what he's done. To be an entrepreneur for 25 years and to have a business with a Fortune 500 company, to me, that's monumental, and that has a lot to do with Martin Luther King."

Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or zalleyne@kentuckynewera.com.

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