‘Continue to be that voice’

Published 6:26 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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Hormel team members commemorate MLK Day and Black History Month with an essay competition

For the 12th year, Hormel Foods Corporation honored three students for their writings in the  Dr. Martin Luther King Essay Contest.

The winners were Ava Pigrum of Sacramento, California, Andre Smith of Minneapolis and Michael Htoo from Wilmar. The contest is sponsored by Hormel’s Black Leaders & Allies Advancing Cultural Knowledge (BLAACK).

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As part of Tuesday’s ceremony, the three winners read their essays celebrating not just the life of Dr. King, but his legacy and willingness to keep fighting toward equal rights for all.

Hormel Foods Corporation CEO Jim Snee is photographed with this year’s winners of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Essay Contest: Ava Pigrum, from left, Andrew Smith and Michael Htoo. Photo provided

“I thank my ancestors who pushed through,” Smith said in his essay. “I thank Dr. King because he gave me and everyone the faith to become a leader and take the next step to keep his dream alive. There is still not justice for all, if it wasn’t for Dr. King we would not know how to fix today’s problems.”

That sentiment of thanking King for his contributions was a common theme throughout the essays. A presence of mind to not simply stay seated but to strive for what’s right.

“He taught me how to stand up for people,” Pigrum said.

“He gave this world equality,” Htoo said. “He gave this world more freedom and peace.”

It was those types of feelings that leaders of BLAACK hope the students will continue to take with them into life.

“I hope for these students to really embody those things they spoke about in their essays — the courage,” said BLAACK President Cedric Moore after the ceremony. “I hope they embody those as they continue to grow into young adults. I encourage them to be fearless and speak up and stand up for what’s right and what’s right for them.”

In total, over 700 students from 12 schools across six states took part in the contest with the theme of “What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Means to Me.”

The students, including all those who didn’t advance, took that theme to heart and spoke to the larger hope of continuing to stand for others.

“(King’s) legacy really just means perseverance and just keep going and that’s what the students embodied today,” Moore said. “Perseverance by coming up and standing in front of everyone and speaking.”

With that comes the additional hope that students will use their voices for change by embodying King’s spirit.

“I feel like I want them to really take away the ideal of keep going and stay persistent,” Moore said. “Keep fighting. I think Mr. (Jim) Snee made a great comment about how the students should always speak up, always let their voices be shared and never be scared to shed that light of speaking up. Continue to be that voice, continue to be that leader.”