On Thursday, January 30th, 2020, Ethel M. Gordon Oakland Park Library, which serves Oakland Park as well as all of Broward County, held an award ceremony for its inaugural essay contest honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). The ceremony was hosted by the adult services librarian, Vera Thomas, and was to include the winners of the essay competition.
Thought up by the adult services librarian as a way to celebrate MLK’s legacy, the contest was open to all Broward County adults between the ages of 18-30 years old. Inspired by MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, participants were asked to write a 1,000-2,000-word essay answering the question “What does Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech mean to you?”
As this was the first year for the library to host this essay competition, they had received one entry for the contest. The judging committee, made up of library staff members, read the sole essay and agreed that the author of the essay, 20-year old, Broward College student, Alexandria George was well-deserved of the grand prize, an Amazon Kindle.
Under this more exclusive and intimate setting, a small group gathered for a roundtable discussion, hosted in the library. The group included Alexandria, her friends and family, Oakland Park’s library staff, and Living in Oakland Park contributor—me!
Together, we all listened to Alexandria recite her essay and describe the intricate sections of her paper. She wrote a very powerful and moving essay. She described to us the meaning behind some of her words and the group was impressed with her message and interpretation of MLK’s speech. “When I first read her essay, I was very impressed and very proud of her” gleamed Latoya George, Alexandria’s mom.
A key point the group took away from our discussion was that Dr. King’s speech continues to impact the lives of young individuals alike. As Alexandria mentioned in her essay :
“The history and implementation of King’s speech gave credibility in noticing viewpoints that attract the most positive influencers, purifying the souls of those who yearn to be made monumental, as time teaches us how to put into practice these expectations.”
As a group we mentioned how we all try to put into practice being equal and fair human beings no matter race, gender, or religion.
Alexandria’s essay revealed how MLK’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech was relevant to her and she further described her understanding of freedom is “sharing dreams of prophecies with a nation, standing together, as we fulfill God’s promises.”
Alexandria also took a moment to thank Navy Veteran and Oakland Park resident, Grecia Rivas-Smith, Alexandria’s friend, and one that encouraged her to enter the competition.
This first essay competition hosted by the City had less participants than expected. Nevertheless, it had one participant and became a reality and was a success in its own right. This type of event is great for our community because provides a rare opportunity for young people to think for themselves, to share their thoughts with others and receive constructive feedback. It has the potential to nurture an even deeper sense of community amongst Oakland Parkers, while at the same time and raising awareness about our diversity and how to embrace it.
Maria Scudella-Beltran was born and raised in Bergen County, New Jersey, right outside of New York City. She moved to South Florida in 2004 and graduated from Florida International University with a bachelors’ degree in Marketing and Communications.
In 2010, she purchased her first home in the North Andrews Gardens area in Oakland Park. After several years of working in the retail industry, Maria took on a part-time internship at a marketing agency and continued her education through Walden University where she earned her Master’s degree in Marketing and Communications.
Currently, she works in Marketing and during her free time she enjoys spending time with her husband and traveling.