PROUD WINNERS—From left: Ruthanne Pilarski, 8th grade winner and Dyonna Hall, 7th grade winner of the Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

The Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by holding its first annual Martin Luther King Essay  Competing of girls in grades 6-12 in January.
Entrants were asked to write a 300 to 500 word essay that answered one of the following questions: How can I change the world? What does it mean to be a part of the beloved community? And How am I a leader for justice, equality and fairness for all people in Pittsburgh and beyond? Winners and finalists were given a chance to read their essays at the Union Project’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration on Martin Luther King Day. In addition each winner was awarded a gift basket and gift card.
“The Girls Coalition looks for meaningful ways to engage girls in our work; giving girls an opportunity to think about how they might change the world,” said Girls Coalition of Western Pennsylvania’s Program Director Heather Mediate. “Putting that into words seemed like a great way to hear from the girls about the challenges they see today and how those challenges might be overcome. Using the work of Martin Luther King, Jr, as a prompt for this contest was a natural fit because of the vision he had for the future and his fight for equality in this country.”
The Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania strives to build a strong group of providers that serve girls to address and remedy the issues that face all girls in the areas of education, physical and mental health, violence and crime, economics, and essentially help organizations connect, collaborate and create a better place for girls to grow up in.
Winners of the contest were 12-year-old Pittsburgh Carmalt seventh grader Dyonna Hall and 12-year-old Pittsburgh CAPA eighth grader Ruthanne Pilarski.
“Our hope for this contest was to hear not just about why girls are inspired by the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., but what they are inspired by on a daily basis and ways in which they are already changing the world,” Mediate said.
Essay winner Dyonna Hall is changing the world on a local level by volunteering at recreation centers in her Brookline neighborhood and working with youth and teaching them about being positive and giving one another respect regardless of race, gender or age.
“I believe that everyone is put on this earth for a reason and can possess a special gift,” explained Hall, a 12-year-old Pittsburgh Carmalt seventh grader in her essay entitled “I Was Chosen to Change the World.” “Although Dr. King suffered by the hands of his fellow man, I believe he lived his life to the fullest by doing what he believed was right and still continuing to move forward by raising his family. He did not let the fact that man will always fall short of the glory stop him, for he knew that work and determination could make this life better for everyone.”
Pilarski believes that improving one’s self is a step in the right direction in making the world a better place for all to live in.
“I believe that everything big starts from something small. I believe that if we want to achieve greatness, it’s not about one big thing, but about everyone doing their individual part to change what they can,” Pilarski said in her essay titled “How Can I Change the World?” “It may be about working together, but if we start small, and if we start with ourselves, the rest will come easily.”

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