DeKALB – Kendall Hampton has always been aware of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but learned a lot more about the civil rights leader this year.
"I did a lot of research," said Kendall, a DeKalb High School freshman who won first prize in a King essay contest sponsored by Northern Illinois University's Center for Black Studies. "I learned a lot about the march and just a lot of cool stuff."
A prize ceremony for the essay contest was one of several activities scheduled last week to honor the birthday of King, who was slain in 1968.
Dr. Joy Coates, associate director of the Center for Black Studies, this year was the first time the center held the high school essay contest in addition to its observance of King's birthday. It was open to all students at DeKalb and Sycamore high schools, but only six students, all from DHS, entered.
"It's important to celebrate as well as remember Dr. King," she said.
The theme of the essay contest was the impact King's famous March on Washington has a half-century later. The idea was to engage young people, Coates said.
Kendall won a $150 prize. Second prize, worth $100, went to DHS junior Brittany Koch. Honorable mention winners were sophomore Briana Williams, freshman Serene Labad, junior Bradley Green, and junior Esperanza Rodriguez.
"I just like writing and I thought it would be challenging," Kendall said. "I did a lot of research and it informed me of so much I didn't know. It was really a fun experience. I've never been a part of something like this before. It's exciting."
The essay contest prizes were awarded Jan. 23, at an event that began with a screening of a 20-minute documentary about the March on Washington, then a group discussion.
"I think it went very well," said Erin Holman, one of the members of the event committee.
Cold weather caused the center to cancel some of its planned events last week, including a march from Stevenson North to the Holmes Student Center. A local church celebration held each year to commemorate King's birthday, "The Beloved Community: A Place at the Table," has been rescheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Federated Church, 612 W. State St. in Sycamore.