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7th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Essay Contest

  “We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

2013 MLK Student Essay Contest Winners

First Place - Stephen Thompson (COM)
Second Place
-  Sherlonda Adkins (CHP)
Third Place
- Brittany Watson (COM) and Gregory R. Franklin, II (COM)

Stephen Thompson (COM), 1st place winner, with Dr. Willette Burnham

Winning Essay

Stephen Thompson
January 9, 2013
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Essay Contest

On April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. composed “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to a published statement by eight Alabama clergymen, entitled “A Call for Unity.” Within this letter, Dr. King constructs the argument that “we must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” Examination of this statement outside of the context of the letter suggests that Dr. King embraces the concept of “carpe diem,” encouraging the reader to make the most of time. Taken within the context of the letter, this statement suggests that time alone does not engender any type of action or change, but people create change through action. Dr. King uses this argument to persuade the reader that inaction in the presence of an unjust status quo is a form of complacent acceptance that is just as reprehensible as those who first established the injustice.

Throughout literature, authors have embraced the idea of time as a limited resource that should not be wasted but used to its fullest extent. Originally penned by the Roman lyric poet Horace, the concept of “carpe diem” is a timeless lesson that teaches the value of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow. Procrastination is an  inherent human flaw that leads to the rejection of this message because it is indeed easier to avoid action until it is absolutely required. Dr. King directly attacks this notion of avoidance in his statement that “time is always ripe.” By isolating this one phrase from his statement and from the larger context of his letter, a singular lesson can be gleaned about the concept of time and the necessity that time not be wasted. His advice that time be used creatively is an attack on the excuse that there is no time, compelling the reader to make time for action, using it wisely in the knowledge that time is finite.

Within the context of the letter, Dr. King’s statement becomes an attack on the “notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.” Many white members of the clergy rejected the actions of Dr. King and the African-American Civil Rights Movement, instead embracing the idea that, with the passage of time, all people will eventually receive equal protection under the law. They accepted the entrenched nature of racial inequality embraced by many white people and determined that no immediate action could reverse these deeply held convictions. Dr. King’s statement that “time is always ripe to do right” attacks the belief of these clergymen by repudiating the ability of time to heal wounds and embracing the idea that action must be taken in order to address injustice. To him, time is an ally of the oppressors, allowing them to maintain social injustice through social stagnation. Dr. King remarks “human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability,” suggesting that without direct intervention, no progress is possible, and the current injustice will merely survive through the progression of time. 

Dr. King continues his response to the clergy by concluding that “this generation [will] not merely [repent] for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but [also] for the appalling silence of the good people.” This passage contends that inaction in the face of persecution is as equally culpable as the act of persecution. Not only does this argument augment Dr. King’s previous assertion about the inability of time to heal wounds but also directly confronts the issue of inaction, no matter one’s intentions. This is perhaps the most poignant attack on the clergy’s stance as well as the human tendencies to avoid confrontation and resist change. We accept the injustice in the world and assume that we are powerless to change it, falsely believing that it is someone else’s problem. Dr. King reminds us that we have a moral obligation to address injustice when it is witnessed, completing his argument that “the time is always ripe to do right.” 

Dr. King exhorts the reader of his letter to make the time to take action in the face of inequity because complacent acceptance will only allow injustice to continue. This lesson is a reminder to us never to accept the status quo but to strive for excellence. As medical students and professionals, we constantly find that time is never on our side. As students, our days our filled with our studies with little time left for much else. As professionals, there is increasing pressure to see more patients within an already limited amount of time. No matter how busy we become, we cannot forget that our patient is a person who demands our attention and respect. We must remind ourselves about the humanity of medicine and make time, no matter how little, to get to know our patients as people and not merely as charts. In addition, we must always be vigilant of medical errors as well as patient abuse and neglect. When patients are mistreated, we have an obligation to admit error, stand up for our patients, and rectify the wrongdoing or mistake. We also have an obligation to respect other members of the healthcare team and protect their well-being, because the presence of inequality within the team diminishes the standard of care and puts the patient’s well-being at risk. Put simply, we should never allow someone to tell us “this is the way it has always been done” when describing wrongdoing. We should never fall victim to the belief that we cannot make a difference through solitary action, because one person’s actions can indeed spark a revolution of change. If we recognize injustice, we have an obligation to take action and demand change, because if we do not, the patient will suffer. Dr. King does indeed make a compelling argument through his statement that “we must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” The passage of time only allows for the perpetuation of an unjust status quo that will only change if someone seizes the opportunity to take action and exact change. Medicine is a field uniquely suited for Dr. King’s advice because of the endless opportunities it affords healthcare professionals to make time for acts of kindness as well as for acts of courage in the face of injustice. He reminds us that we are all humans, united in the struggle of good over evil.

Second Place

Sherlonda Adkins, PA-S

I was in the second grade when I remember hearing the name Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the first time.  I learned about the major role he played as a change agent in the Civil Rights Movement.  Without a doubt, Dr. King was a change agent.  Although his time here on Earth was short, he made a tremendous impact while he was here and left a legacy behind.  Not only did he advocate change, but he encouraged others to become change agents as well.  Being a change agent requires courage to go against the grain.  It requires holding on to vision even when it appears that the change you set out to make isn’t happening.  When Dr. King said, “We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is

always ripe to do right,” I believe he was admonishing people against remaining stagnant because they feel the “timing” is not right to act.  There is never a wrong time to do what is right.  Dr. King’s message applies to every person alive but I believe it particularly applies to those who are in a position of leadership.  Healthcare providers fall into this category.  They are not only leaders, but also servants.  The best healthcare providers are those who recognize their position as one of service and see it as a calling.

As a future healthcare provider, I see many opportunities in which I can follow the model of Dr. King.  I start first by recognizing my gift of motivating people.  True change comes from within.  However, sometimes people need an external guide to assist them with making a change, a catalyst.  One of my gifts in life is my ability to motivate people to take action in their personal lives toward a better tomorrow.  I am thankful that I discovered my gift early and have since then made a commitment to using it for the benefit of others.  As a Physician Assistant, I will be in a great position to educate and empower patients to take charge of their personal health.   South Carolina has been known to trail the nation in certain health conditions due to factors such limited access to healthcare, poverty and lack of education.  Within one year, poverty rates, the number of uninsured people, the rate of obesity and diabetes all increased (America’s Health Rankings 2011).  Waiting for things to just work themselves out eventually is a detrimental ideology to subscribe to. I have experienced firsthand what it is like to grow up in a rural community and be the recipient of public assistance for housing, food and healthcare.   If there is even a small chance that I can help decrease these rates, then I know that my hard work preparing to become a Physician Assistant is not in vain.  I am a member of the South Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants and the American Academy of Physician Assistants.  In order to be an effective change agent, I know I must be committed to staying abreast of issues related to my profession.  I will be involved with issues at the state and national level to help shape policies that will be the most beneficial to the residents of South Carolina. 

Secondly, the timing is ripe for me to move beyond the borders of my familiar world and culture.  Fortunately, our nation’s healthcare policies are changing to increase the availability of healthcare services.  However, that is not the case in every country.  There is a world of people waiting to receive help, and we have been called to go ye therefore into the world to serve!   In August 2013, I will be going on my first trip as a healthcare provider to Uganda with Palmetto Medical Initiative.  PMI serves patients in the Diocese of Masindi Kitara by providing them with healthcare and health education.  I can easily think of several reasons why it might be more convenient to postpone serving overseas.  However, as a change agent, I have moved beyond those mental blockages and committed to making an impact in the lives of other people. Some of the most fulfilling local missions that I have taken part in include teaching biblically based marriage classes with 2=1 International, counseling at the Lowcountry Pregnancy Center, hosting a Korean high school student, and serving at a local nursing home.  For each of these missions, there were opportunities for me to say the timing was not right, but I am so glad people like Dr. King gave me reasons to press forward.

I believe in growing where I am planted for every season in my life.  Therefore, I am not waiting until I graduate and officially become a Physician Assistant to become a change agent.  I have already started gaining valuable experience by serving as an Ambassador for the College of Health Professions, serving as a member of the Student Interprofessional Society and SHPRUD (Student Health Professionals United in Recognizing Diversity).  When I am working as a Physician Assistant, I will be able to thrive in a setting where I can effectively

collaborate and communicate with other healthcare providers which results in the optimum care of my patients.   Having these opportunities to be involved at MUSC enhances the education I am receiving and equips me even more to be an effective change agent.  When it comes to people’s lives, we cannot wait for the nation to “get it together.”  We cannot wait for our culture to evolve or mindsets to change; we must be ready and willing to serve at all times.

Third Place

Brittany Watson (COM, 1st Year)

“We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Time is a phenomenon that impacts everything on earth, both living and nonliving. People get older, flowers wilt, pavement cracks, and electronics become out-of-date. Time is one of the few things evenly distributed across the globe. Regardless of origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or wealth, everyone is given 24 hours per day. In addition, it is consistent in that no one second is longer than another. If you were to “Google” the definition of time, you would find it defined as the “indefinite continued progress of existence and
events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole”. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., along with this definition of time motivates all of humanity to cherish every moment, and to use the time given to do what is just and right.

As students and future health professionals, we always feel like we need more time. Our lives are hectic, and our schedules are full. We may have elaborate goals, filled with intentions to make a difference one day. Sadly, that “one” day may never come. Life and personal circumstances can overwhelm, and there is always something that will come in the way of your admirable intentions. Good intentions without dedication are pointless. This is why intent must be reinforced with action. The dreams of civil rights were not achieved in
one day. In fact, there are still many inequalities that exist in our society. But, just as Dr. King took steps toward equality, we must always keep those admirable goals in mind and make steps daily toward the realization of that difference. This Dr. King quote and his actions in the past teaches us that the present is always the right time to progress forward to a better future.

With that being said, although every time is right, that does not mean that it will be convenient for us. We must be sure not confuse the “right” time with the “convenient” time. Dr. King and other great leaders like him did not stand in the shadows waiting for a convenient time to seek change and a better future.  They stood up for what was right at all times, even in the face of danger. This is why we must use our time constructively and creatively. We must be constantly aware of our surroundings and make sure that we strive to do the right thing in every moment. This point is especially important in the health care profession.  Doing the right thing only when it is convenient does not convey that you are an
authentic, invested change agent. Instead, doing what is right only when it is convenient for you suggests that you are an opportunist. As stated previously, there are 24 hours in a day. Within that short amount time, it is possible to make a profound impact on the lives of fellow human beings. A smile does not cost any of our precious time, but it can change a person’s outlook on their day.  Small acts of kindness go a long way. If we take a moment to think, we can come up with many instances where a simple action can make a difference. In this short quote, Dr. King encouraged such creativity.

As future health professionals, we must remind ourselves that this is a profession of service. Dr. King devoted his life and died for equality. We should devote our lives to improving and providing quality care to patients. This requires us to take the time to see our patients as fellow human beings and not as the conditions from which they suffer. We should be willing to take the necessary and proper steps to improve patient outcomes. When we are in a rush, we should still perform thorough examinations. Even when it seems like we will not have enough time to get through our day’s work, we should take the time to talk with our patients, and provide education. In every aspect of our profession and our lives we should seek to empower and make a positive difference in the lives of others. When we get overwhelmed with our responsibilities and the little time that we have, remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Gregory R. Franklin, II (COM)
Class of 2016

“We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

We’re all guilty of it. We do it every time we throw a plastic bottle in the trash can instead of walking the extra 15 feet to throw it in the recycling bin. We do it every time we see an advertisement for a community service event that we’d like to participate in, but we never get around to it. We do it in the hospitals when we’re finally getting off from that 12 hour shift and pass on the duty to the incoming crew because we’re exhausted, instead of ensuring that the patient gets what he/she needs. We do it in the lab when we’re not 100% sure if one of the variables is truly controlled, but we don’t have time to go back to check because we have deadlines to meet for grants and publications. We do it every time we spend 16 hours a day studying to achieve the highest grades to make our parents proud, when all they really want from us, is to call home to check-in every once in a while. And we do it every time we finally get a break from studying and working only to spend the time sleeping and watching TV marathons instead of checking on our elderly neighbors. We know what is right and we know how to do right. Then why don’t we?

Do right. At first glance, it seems like a very simple concept. However in our day-to-day lives, it’s in our nature to throw this, the very essence of our being, to the wayside. We get so caught up in our personal schedules and trying to be the best students, that we sometimes forget to be a good human being first. It’s beautiful that nowadays, people have so many titles and positions and goals and dreams. We’re all participating in ground-breaking research, learning to be skilled clinicians and brilliant scientists. And this applies to all of mankind: everyone is guilty of not “doing the right thing,” all the time. However as future scientists, professors, pharmacists, physicians, dentists, nurses, therapists, and professionals, we are in excellent positions to do change the world by doing the right thing. It’s imperative that this lesson is embraced by students now, so that when we graduate and go into the workforce, we never forget our priorities.

As Dr. King found out in his lifetime, sometimes doing the right thing isn’t always going to be popular, or a great career move or even legal. At times, standing up for what’s right is downright hard. Often times throughout life, people are faced with decisions like “Should I make the right choice or make the easy choice? Do I do the right thing or do I follow protocol? Should I stand up for what’s right or should I just go along with everyone else?” This is especially true for future healthcare professionals and biomedical researchers.

One of the main issues that we’ll run across is: knowing the right thing to do, knowing how to do it, but the timing being wrong. People often say “timing is everything,” and it’s true, timing can be very important in certain situations. However, we as a people often use timing as a “crutch” and as an excuse to justify our cowardice for not doing the right thing. There is never a bad time to do good. There is never a wrong time to do what’s right.

If not now, when? There’s never going to be a “better” time. The time is now. It always has been and it always will be. Always do the right thing. Take the extra steps to recycle to help save the planet. Go the extra mile with your patients. Don’t take any shortcuts in the lab. Don’t be afraid to say what’s right, even if none of your colleagues agree with you. Take a few hours out of your “weekend-off” to volunteer with someone who could use some help. Take time to thank the people who helped get you to where you are today and help someone else get here too. None of us can individually save the world, but if we all “do the right thing” a little bit more often, the world would be a lot better off and I’m sure Dr. King would be proud.

We all get tired and busy with our professional and familial obligations, and sometimes we may literally not have time to do any organized service or be able to give to a philanthropic endeavor. That’s why we have to use our time creatively: whether it’s listening to one of our patients who has no one else to talk to or just returning some lost property to the lost and found. These random acts of kindness may not have a place on our resumes or curriculum vitae, but they go a long way in making the world a better place. Together, we can change what’s possible.

Code Diversity
MLK Essay Contest Winners
left to right – Brittany Watson, 3rd place (CHP); Sherlonda Adkins, 2nd place (COM); Stephen Thompson, 1st place (COM); Gregory R. Franklin, II, 3rd place, (COM)

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