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Voices of the Future: Essayists speak of MLK’s impact on them

For the third year, Hormel Foods Corporation hosted a public announcement of winners from the ninth annual Hormel Foods MLK essay contest Tuesday morning.

The winners were picked out of more than 1,000 submissions from 20 schools from around the nation that have Hormel presences in the city. The winners were Sinan Sarihan Zafer Elvin of Atlanta, Georgia, Nailah Beachem of Atlanta and Ashlyn Rose Bryant of Little Rock, Arkansas.

The essay contest is sponsored by the Hormel African American Resource Group (HAARG) in an effort to honor the vision and work of Dr. Martin Luther King.

“For nine years we have asked students to learn, reflect and personalize the message of Dr. King and what it means to them,” said Tommy Swearingen, HAARG president in a press release later in the day. “Every year, the essays are an inspiration to our team, and we couldn’t be prouder of the heartfelt writings of everyone who submitted.”

Of the more than 1,000 submissions, five winning essays are chosen from each school. Of those are four runners-up and one overall winner. The three winners Tuesday are the final top picks.

All three essays spoke of King’s influences not only on society, but on their own lives.

“It is a blueprint to achieve my goals,” said Beachem, who is a 13-year-old student from Chapel Hill Middle School.

Those influences echoed throughout the words of each student’s essay mirrored beliefs that have begun to grow within them. Sinan, a fifth-grade student from Oak Grove Elementary School, recited how many of King’s beliefs have echoed over time and that it is time to come together to fix the ills of society.

“We are in the same place right now,” Sinan related.

After the readings, Bryant, a middle school student at Lonoke Middle School, reflected on Kings impacts over the years and the effects on her life personally.

“I was mostly thinking of people I have in my life because of Dr. King,” she said. “Without him I wouldn’t be able to have the friends and family I have today.”

The impact of the student’s essays were felt throughout the gathered employees who attended the ceremony.

“That’s a hard act to follow,” Swearingen said just after the essays were read.

When it was all said and done, Swearingen was impressed with the student’s grasp of the topic, a sometimes heady issue with profound ideas.

“I was blown away by the kids’ grasp of social issues of the day and they’re in a position to articulate how they feel,” Swearingen said. “I didn’t think about these things at this age.”

This avenue of including children can open up ideas for conversations important to today’s society; a look at a more positive future.

“I think more than anything else, it lets down the guards of all people,” Swearingen said. “What kids bring to this, they bring it to you the way it can be.”

Perhaps one of the biggest messages to come out of the morning was the idea of letting their voice be heard and be part of the future.

“Never lose your voice,” said Hormel Chairman of the Board, President and CEO Jim Snee. “You do have a voice. You’re leaders in your communities and your classrooms.”

Bryant reflected this as she looked back to being a part of the experience.

“I’m very honored to be here and the other students inspired me with their speeches,” she said. “It makes me happy to see other people stand up, believe and share their voices.”