These are my personal ramblings on life through the lens of my multiracial/multicultural worldview... and probably other stuff too...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Power of Silence

Reflecting on recent events - personal, local, national and global - I am moved to share the following insight from our youth.  I am moved beyond words by the empathy, courage and power within their words.  May we all stop and listen and learn.  I guarantee the world will be a better place. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Student Poetry Contest

2011 Winners


First Place, Elementary
Harmanpreet Kaur, George W. Gibbs Elementary, 5th grade
“Why Be Silent?”

When a friend needs your help,
What will you do?
Stand there silent,
Not saying a word?
Or, will you support them,
Stand up for them,
And not let them get hurt?
Yes, I have had times,
Where I did not stand up for my friend,
I let them get hurt and silently watched.
But if we all follow Dr. King’s example,
We could all make a difference in the world.
One word could make a difference,
In how someone ends up feeling.
What would we end up like,
If no one stood up?
If no one spoke up?
We should all try not to be silent,
And not just stand there.
We each want to fight for our own rights,
But we do not only have to fight for ourselves,
We also need to fight for others;
And this shows true bravery.

Second Place, Elementary
Emily Madson, Harriet Bishop Elementary, 5th grade
“Be a Friend”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The day my mother told me this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., I really started thinking about it more.

I remember that day, that perfect day, until after lunch. My friends and I were just sitting on the swings, but that bully had to be there too. My friends just left, they just left. They didn’t even care. Why didn’t they stand up for me? I felt so alone.

Or that other day during the school party when people were teasing me. My friends didn’t say anything. They were supposed to be on my side. I wanted to go home because I felt like I didn’t have a friend. WHY? WHY?

What my mother told me was so true… the silence of my friends hurt me more than that bully on the playground or the teasing at the party did. From then on I remember to help others, respect others, and to never be the bully.

Third Place, Elementary
Arianna Quinn Swenson, Harriet Bishop Elementary, 5th grade
“The Friend I Should Have Been”

The friend I should have been
When Mathew was a bully

The friend I should have been
When you needed some back-up

The friend I should have been
When I was a bully

The friend I should have been
When you needed me

The friend I should have been
The friend I am now
The friend we all should be

First Place, Middle School
Megan Jans, St. Francis of Assisi, 8th grade
“My Greatest Regret”

They say that one person
Has the power to change the world
Simply with words.
One sentence, from one person,
Could change the entire way somebody thinks.
Imagine, then, what thousands of voices could do!
The world could be completely turned, if we only would speak.

But here I stand, in front of you,
Completely motionless, saying nothing.
The silence
Is a python, tied taut around my neck,
Is a fist, jammed down my throat,
Is a sword, stabbing me in the chest every time I take a breath.

I dare to meet your gaze,
And my eyes immediately avert away.
Your eyes—your beautiful, blue eyes—are filled with pleading,
Begging me to say something, anything.
They remind me of how you were always there for me—
Cracking jokes when I was down,
Holding me and wiping me tears when I cried,
Defending me when they were attacking me.

Using your words to build me up, to change my life.

The silence is heavier now;
Guilt is weighing me down,
Making me feel like I am carrying backpacks full of rocks.
Still, I do not speak; I simply watch,
As they mock you,
Spit cruel words at you,
Tear you down.

Using their words to destroy you, to change your life.

Words, unformed, sit in the bottom of my stomach.
Oh, how I want to speak!
But I don’t, because of my weakness, for my fear of them turning their cruelty to me.

This is too much.

I turn, run away, from all of this, from
Your pleading eyes, from
Their cruel words, from
My own unending speechlessness.

That silence is one of my greatest regrets;
You never regarded me the same way again.
Between me and you, who was long ago my greatest friend, was silence.
If only I had been stronger, I could have spoken.
Just one sentence could have changed all of this for you.
But I didn’t speak,
Didn’t build you up,
Didn’t change your life.

I just gave you silence

Second Place, Middle School
Rosemary Rogers, St. Francis of Assisi, 8th grade

A world where all are silent,
Where horrible deeds go unchallenged,
Where saviors become bystanders,
And the every-day hero in all of us reduced, confined, ignored.
This is a world of violence and cowardice.
This is the nightmare.
A world where people are unafraid to speak up for what is right,
Where bystanders are no more,
Where everyone’s heroic side is proudly displayed,
And fear is vanquished by bravery.
This is a world of compassion and courage.
This is the dream.
A world that exists on the thin line between nightmare and dream,
Where there are both bystanders and saviors,
Where heroism is chosen,
And improvement is strived for.
This is a world with both dark and light.
This is reality.

Third Place, Middle School
Kierra Walske, John Adams Middle School, 8th grade
“Silence = Nothing Good”

They tell a mean joke and everyone laughs and says…

They call him a name and he feels hurt on the inside but what does he say?

He remembers that day for all of his years. 
He remembers it well because he FELT like….

What changes in our world when this happens day after day?

Honorable Mention, Middle School
Taylor Bluthardt, John Adams Middle School, 7th grade

In a world where quiet is a part of life
The silence can be sometimes like a knife
When you see the pain in my eyes
Set me free, for you could be
A miracle in disguise.

Honorable Mention, Middle School
Jasmine Sparrow, Willow Creek Middle School, 8th grade
“Speak for Me”

Speak or I shall be torn
Forever knowing what could have changed
Wishing to be lost in darkness
Remembering the death you have brought to me
My soul the one to die
Speak my friend
I need you now
Speak for me when I need a voice
My friend why do you hold your silence?
Speak or I shall be dead inside
I cannot seem to breathe
Help me and tell me what to do
I feel your silence more sharply then a blade
Speak or may you forever remember this day
When you could have saved me
From silence
The deading silence
The one that killed me

First Place, High School
Sarah Leichty, John Marshall High School, 10th grade
“If the World Took a Breath”

If the world took a breath,
and resolved to speak,
would it throw up its hands
and shout toward the weak?
The missing of moments
and good things not done
of speeches not spoken
and songs left unsung
of people left stranded
with nothing but fear
while faces of beings
held not but a leer.
Would it burst out in rage
and smite the timid
for slouching and hiding
while they are amid
the troubles of others
all broken and hurt
while not even faking
to appear alert
to avoid and avert
What good can that do?
The whole world shouts to us
who haven’t a clue.
What we do as people,
while housed on this Earth,
can make such a difference
and give some rebirth.
If we teach of standing,
proclaiming what’s right,
can we right what was wrong
and reduce the bite?
Of horrors of silence,
while terrors were done,
to take the voice away
from father and son,
from mother and daughter
stripped of a small right
like voting and marriage
what a vile sight.
To place all as equal
that is what they dream.
I hope if we stand up
we will form a team.
Our fight is not finished
steps have been undone.
If everyone stood up
Then nay would be none.
All over the whole world
this is my small plea
let’s hush the world’s shouting,
so all may be free.

Second Place, High School
Mara Smith, Century High School, 10th grade
“The Day My Eyes Were Opened”

One day, my friend and I were sitting, observing our surroundings.
The teacher got up, leaving the room.
A boy, sometimes quite different from others,
            was minding his own business.
But, many others teased this boy,
            calling him names and shooting rubber bands at him.
My friend and I glanced at each other.
I then made a snide comment to my friend;
            the boy couldn’t hear it;
            it wasn’t hurting him.
So what’s the harm?
I immediately expected an agreeing smirk back at me.
But, no.
Rather, my friend said,
            “He gets enough rubbish from the other kids.
            You don’t have to contribute just because they are.”
After this was said, my friend was dead silent,
            saying nothing rude against the boy.
I was so taken aback that all I could manage to sputter was, “Sure.”
Later that evening, I sat and thought,
            really thought, about what my friend had said.
It felt like my very own friend
            had punched me in the gut with the comment!
I was the one of whom was made a fool!  No one else, but me!
I was sick with guilt; I didn’t know what to do.
The next day, I went back to my friend and said,
            “You know what I’ve discovered?  You’re right.”
My friend asked, “What in the world are you talking about?”
I replied with, “Yesterday you stood up for the boy.
            You did the right thing.
            I had absolutely no right to make fun of him, just because others were.
            Thank you for making me realize that.”
My friend said simply, “Oh, sure,”
            shrugging off the situation, completely forgetting about it.
Little did my friend know that
            I was inspired
            by the actions shown
            and the words spoken.
To stand up for one’s friend,
            is an act of kindness.
To stand up for one you barely even know,
            is better than kindness.
It’s an act of pure love.
From that day forward,
I was a completely

Third Place, High School
Paige Schreifels, Century High School, 10th grade

Break your friend’s heart
Keep quiet, don’t stand up
Leave your friend in terror
Abused, unwanted, lost, crying
Let rumors fly
Your friend will understand
Hiding, wishing, damaged
Your heart won’t give you courage,
It will give you loneliness
Break your friend’s heart

Honorable Mention, High School
Herchran Singh, John Marshall High School, 10th grade
“Martin Luther King, Jr. Said…”
Martin Luther King, Jr. said
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
But the silence of our friends.”
In my mind this means,
Don’t bail on your friends,
Stay true ‘til life ends
I think of a time
When my friends bailed on me
A time when they laughed
With my worst enemy
I had been tripped by a boy,
He was a bully
And through my flood of tears,
Saddened, I could see
My friends were laughing
And smiling with the rest
I was in emotionally hurt
As I carefully stood
But for years I did
What I knew was not good
I had clung to those friends
For several years
They had bailed many times
And caused many tears
But now in the present
I can gladly say
I am happy with the friends
That I have today
I hope you stand up
For your friends in need
Go forth and help them,
Don’t just recede
Don’t be the one
To start all the violence
And don’t be the one
To stand there in silence.

Honorable Mention, High School
Jennifer Kim, Century High School, 10th grade
“The Visitor”

he enters our world like a cold wind—
unwanted, unwarranted, unwelcome.
there is one short-but-eternal, uncertain-but-definite
when our small universe freezes in
suspended silence—
the pencil lies unsharpened,
the paper a blank landscape.
he is not like us:
his eyes are two camera lenses,
just out of focus—
his hands
are a pair of explorers
in a never-ending search for treasures new and exotic—
his mind is a child at play,
simply and sweetly.
in this single moment,
the citizens of our metropolis stare at the newcomer, their eyes
twin pools of pity and fear.
for the boy in the letter jacket and the girl with the pretty yellow skirt,
he is laughably different, hilariously foreign.
and so, the charm breaks and the torment begins.
scornful glares surround the friendly wanderer;
our microcosm of civilization
morphs into a murder of harsh-calling crows,
their caws mocking laughter.
retard, they call him.
special. you know, special.
like hunted prey, he is trapped by their words.
and I stand quietly in the back,
mute as if I am blind and deaf to these blackbirds.
I wish I had taken his curious hands
and left them all behind.
I wish I had asked him to show us all
how to break the rules
how to be human
how to free ourselves.
I wish I had told him that he is
not retarded
not mental
not special.
he is just a boy.

NOTE: Credit for these exceptional poems goes to students in Rochester, MN who entered the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Poetry Contest with Diversity
1130 1/2 7th St NW, Suite 204 , Rochester, MN 55901 · Tel: 507.282.9951 · Fax: 507.282.9964 ·

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