2 Weehawken High School students among 10 in N.J. recognized for MLK-related essays


Two Weehawken High School students were among just 10 in the state, selected from a pool of 492, recognized for the essays that were inspired by the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo courtesy of the Weehawken Public Schools.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

There were 492 students who had submitted essays to the competition statewide, according to New Jersey Department of State’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission Executive Director Rowena Madden.

Weehawken High School junior Ayya Kanan wrote about Coretta Scott King, who
helped Martin Luther King Jr., King lead the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and
1960’s, founded and led the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social

She also led the successful 15-year fight for recognition of her husband’s birthday in 1983 as a federal holiday. Additionally, Scott King was an activist for the women’s movement in the U.S. and against apartheid in South Africa.

Weehawken High School sophomore Jazmin Morales wrote about Ella Baker, a civil
rights and human rights activist since the 1920’s.

She was a key organizer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for which, as early as the 1940’s, she was creating new branches in the south.

Baker also organized the group “In Friendship” in 1956, which raised money for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, as well as being a founder of the influential Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960’s.

On Sunday, the two Weehawken High School students had the opportunity to read their award-winning works at the commission’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative event at the New Jersey State Museum, in Trenton.

“Congratulations to Jazmin Morales and Ayya Kanan for their fine work in exploring the lives and legacy of Ella Baker and Coretta Scott King,” New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way said in a statement.

“We can all be inspired by leaders of the past and look to this new generation to create their own ‘arc of the moral universe,’ to quote Dr. King. It is gratifying to know that young people have taken such an interest in this essay contest which recognizes the great women leaders of the civil rights movement.”

The writing contest, “Women Who Led: They Cared…They Dared,” had students
focus on women who have led the struggle for equality and civil rights.

The essay contest was structured around three prompts: to describe the leader’s mission or
motivation to lead; how the leader connected with the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and how the leader specifically inspired the student.

“I am very proud of Ayya and Jazmin,” Andrea Eberhard, the students’ African
American history teacher at Weehawken High School said.

“They are both knowledgeable and engaged during my African American history class. This essay contest was a perfect complement to the character education that is a part of my
daily teachings.”

Eberhard is also a New Jersey Amistad commissioner.

The New Jersey Amistad Commission ensures that the state’s Department of Education and public schools implement materials and texts which integrate the history and contributions of African Americans and the descendants of the African Diaspora.

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