Seniors Kaylah Newman and Samantha Avila Win MLK Jr. Essay Contest

GEHS seniors Kaylah Newman and Samantha were two of five students that won an elite MLK Jr. Day essay competition on January 17, 2022.


Melissa McIntire

Kaylah and Samantha posing with their award.

Ethan Hunting and Turner Brown

This past Martin Luther King Jr. day, the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Foundation collaborated to host the Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy & Scholarship event. Among the 1,000 students that submitted essays for the contest, only five were singled out to be declared winners. Among these elite five were seniors Kaylah Newman and Samantha Avila.

“I wrote an essay and I received the NAACP Essay Contest Winner,” Newman said. “I received it on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

To enter, seniors had to sign up and write an essay describing the beauty of diversity and what it meant to them. 

“To qualify, what we needed to do was write an essay describing the beauty of diversity,” Avila said.

Describing the wonders of diversity in an essay may seem easy at first, but it becomes a bit more tricky to stand out when 1,000 other people are also writing about the same thing. Despite this, Newman and Avila both felt compelled to join.

“I think diversity is a big part of my life,” Newman said. “I feel like it’s just a big part of the world, and I think that seeing the beauty in diversity is really important. Being able to write about it and explain it in words was really really passionate. I’m really passionate about it so I think it was really important for me to be able to do it.”

Newman attributes her personal connection to the ideas within the contest and the importance of those values to her parents. 

“[My parents were] able to tell me and show me how to grow up in a world with so much diversity and see that everyone has a voice, and how everybody is so important regardless of what aspects of life they are a part of,” Newman said.

Avila wanted to showcase her love for the beauty of diversity.

“I signed up for the award because I was interested in writing about diversity and I wanted to put in as much effort and detail as possible and to put my feelings and opinions on paper,” Avila said. “Not only for the award, but because I wanted to speak my mind and explain my own opinion on the beauty of diversity.”

Newman and Avila didn’t just have to write the essays, though. They also had to read them at the award ceremony.

“It was [read in front of] the Martin Luther King Legacy Foundation, and I had to read it in front of the governor, the attorney general, and the president of the NAACP,” Newman said. “It was very formal, something that I wasn’t very used to, but it was really really interesting to be able to see all the different varieties of people that were there and it was really inspiring.”

Newman and Avila also had the chance to speak with many important and esteemed individuals, such as the governor, among many others.

“I talked to the president of the NAACP and the attorney general, I spoke to the governor’s husband, and I spoke to the Chief of Police in Johnson County,” Newman said. “All the essay winners spoke, and we read our essay in front of everybody. It was a truly amazing experience.”

Newman and Avila didn’t just get to meet the president of the foundation. Avila states they won a scholarship and money, and Newman stated they received a lot of experience.