Living the Dream: Art, Poetry and Prose


On the heels of Topeka’s deadliest year in recent history, the 15th Annual Living the Dream Inc Student Art, Poetry and Essay competition is a reminder of the footsteps our community should be taking. Students in grades 1-12 were invited to compete in the 15th Annual Living the Dream Inc Student Art, Poetry and Essay competition; the top three finalist in each category (grade and media) were celebrated Monday at an awards ceremony held at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

Inspired by Dr. King’s vision of a world united in love, equality and compassion, Living The Dream Inc., a nonprofit organization, stands as a living testament to the enduring philosophy of King. The awards were just one of the educational initiatives provided by Living the Dream Week.

Living The Dream Inc. was recognized with the 2023 Community Arts Award for their decades of work to pay tribute to the legacy of Dr. King by supporting the development of youth artists.

“Through their work, Living the Dream Inc. reiterates the critical value of the arts and the work of youth in our community, helping our young people to develop their voices so that they can lead the rest of us along the path of social justice and change.”

2023 ArtsConnect Community Arts Award

“Hate Can Not Drive Out Hate, Only Love Can Do That” Let Your Light Shine!

I had the honor of attending the student recognition and awards program (thanks to my step-daughter an essay finalist) and experienced intense feelings of appreciation for my younger community neighbors. Their generous humanitarian compassion flowed in their works. It was a reminder the significant role parents and educators have, through encouragement and participation, to shape a healthier future. Sarah Fizell, executive director of ArtsConnect, shared the importance of the arts to create community change and thanked the parents for allowing their children to be a part: it’s important “The whole world gets to hear their perspective.”

Perspective, indeed.

Poetic similes gave perspective to struggle and strife experienced yesterday and today.

A first-person essay provided perspective on how to deal with hate (bullying, racism and more) – by leading your life with compassion and love. It was the writer’s perspective that this simple act could deescalate almost any situation.

The visual exaggeration of voice and importance of listening to those in, with and whom endured pain.

The emotional apex of the awards ceremony was when French Middle School educator Mr. Ritter joined his student on stage to delivery the winning essay. According to Ritter, the student was petrified to speak in public, therefore, he [Ritter] would read the majority of essay and the student would read the conclusion. He ask the audience to accept this delivery with sensitivity and enthusiasm, but he ignited an audience to a standing ovation in support for the student. A memory that will undoubted be forever etched in the writer’s mind.

If Topeka continues to foster opportunities to empower our youth; continues to create safe places for dialog and critical thinking; continues to applaud and assist parents and educators in their participation and encouragement, we will drive hate out of Topeka. If the future of our community was represented in New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church that Monday morning, it’s diverse, compassionate and strong. It’s a place I certainly want to continue to shine.

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