Students fight racism with pen and paper

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Knoxville (WVLT) -- On Saturday, they were fighting racism and proving the pen is mightier than the sword, when it comes to winning the battle.

That's because more than two dozen area students were honored for their thoughts on how to end racism.

It was all to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday which is next week.

The ideas in the children's essays were powerful, including lines such as "we must cast racism and violence into extinction," and "there are still problems with segregation."

"It's about getting integrated instead of segregated," said Georgia Gross, 9 who said she learned that lesson from Dr. King. "He's a really great man, even though I've never even met him."

She was also one of the essay winners because of him, taking home the fourth grade award in the 2nd Annual Strongest Links essay contest.

"These are young people who had to do an essay on the importance of the individual to the survival of the United States," said Vivian Underwood Shipe from the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees

Saturday's ceremony honored the top 5 winners and 20 participants. with trophies going to those who best answered the question of how Dr. King's dream of racial equality continues.

"My essay was on the importance of racial relations in modern society," said Andrew Pliagas, who won for the 11th grade. "I, like a lot of people, thought racism wasn't as big of an issue as it really is."

The topic of the contest was inspired last spring, when a pair of racially-charged rallies about the Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom murders brought white supremacists to downtown Knoxville.

"I overheard a young lady ask her momma, what is lynching? And it really bothered me that here in 2007, that a child who's four or five years old has to be explained what lynching was," said Underwood Shipe.

Gross said she has learned that you can't fight hate with hate.

"If you fight fire with fire," she said, "you'll just get burned."

The ceremony also honored community leaders who've worked to make Dr. King's dream of equality a reality.

Honored were seven "stewards," who have dedicated their lives to fostering equality and bettering their community.

Lucille B. Smith, 86 was an avid participant in the civil rights movement, and one of the "stewards."

Mrs. Smith also taught in Monroe County schools for 35 years, where she was a pioneer for High Point High School both before and after integration.

Smith took the time to challenge everyone to be what she called "possibility thinkers."

"They look for the best in life and they don't say no to everything," she said. "They try to do that which is right."

Saturday's ceremony was a pre-cursor to Martin Luther King Jr. week which starts on Wednesday.

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