OPRF senior Azreinna Winston wrote the winning essay in the 42nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Oration Contest. Azreinna performed her speech in front of the student body on Jan. 18. Fellow seniors Alexandros Balafas and Gabriel Udofia placed second and third, respectively.

America to me, America to us, America to all. That is my dream. My dream is for my brothers to get up, my sisters to get up, for me to get up.

Those hate-filled words they speak will turn into encouraging steps as we climb this mountain peak. We’re walking on the glass shards of existence, fighting back with the love and power of persistence. Talk less … do more. Let them know this dream is worth fighting for. Let them know you are worth fighting for. 

My brother, it’s OK to cry. Your emotions make you strong. My sister, empower one another; let your healing words pierce through that uncelebrated song.

Join in unity, for unity. Be together, for togetherness. We should not be comfortable letting our teachers, our students, our people … our nation … be targeted. The fears and tears of our fellow peers being tolerated. 

My dream is to watch my people rise. Stand tall if we fall, our fight keeps us wise. This fight is critical, holding on for our lives, our rights breathe political. We sacrifice our time and energy to this cause. And if we don’t, our cause becomes one of our fatal flaws. Trust the change. It’s what we do. Because the change always starts with you.

We want to educate you without hurting you. Yeah. You heard me. We don’t want to spend our lives trying to fight people who dwell and breathe in their own arrogant ignorance. We don’t have time to fight people who can’t accept a change that they don’t believe will benefit them. 

All we want to do is educate you a little bit. So let me help you out … a little bit. How are we in the same class, and your ideal of advanced placement is always a step above us so we can’t match you? How do you want us to go to the same colleges when those colleges ain’t made for who we are and what we do? Play hard, work harder. Stay focused … Un bothered. How do expect me, expect us to survive and thrive on a stereotype that keeps us deep-rooted in the ground of failure? Crying and sighing, you want us to live now or later?

Let me tell you a few things about me: I’m smart, intelligent. I’m strong, confident. What do I look like being a step behind you when I came before you? What do I look like losing a race that’s made for me? What do I look like staying quiet about the hate that’s plain to see? My own ability owns you. The recollection of my complexity shines through. Do my grades show my intelligence? No, they show my rock-solid relevance. Your society expects me to fail, but how can I fail when I’ve already succeeded?

In the end, me and you are a lot alike. You love your differences, but I love our similarities. Why? You can’t dislike what you can’t strike. That strength … I got it … That drive … I got that too. That determination … You already know. So don’t underestimate my people … my nation. You didn’t make us.

We built ourselves. Our lives are a symbol of our ancestors. We’ll fight for each other to very end. America to me. America to us. America to all … This is the dream that we should fight for. This is my dream that I will fight for. Now and forever. 

And no one can tell me otherwise.

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