MLK’s impact on my world

By Katie Heath

Junior Fellow

In a publication written on June 4, 1957, Dr. King underscored the empowering quality of nonviolence when our focus is on winning friendship, understanding, and opening conversations instead of shutting them down. Nonviolent resistance is not about humiliation of the opponent or appealing to those only within the echo chamber.

I have found Dr. King’s tenet to be powerful in my own life as a young advocate who believes that “…the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community.” The PuLSE Institute embraces Dr. King’s aforementioned strategy by engaging in meaningful research and transformative programs, providing such a non-partisan platform for critical discussions regarding the issues of poverty, social inequality, and illiteracy amongst stakeholders.

As a Junior Fellow at PuLSE, I am learning that not only is it important to participate in a civilized dialogue to effect change, but it is equally important to take action to initiate change. In my short time as a passionate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education advocate and community organizer, I have learned that both strategies are more impactful with commonly shared goals and understanding. I have been a volunteer at the Karmanos Cancer Institute (KCI), a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center located in Detroit since middle school and have recognized that the opportunities I have had to learn about science and medicine are not equally available to my peers, primarily due to a lack of awareness in their own schools.

It matters to me that: my peers never had the information, education, or the chance to dream about becoming a physician, nurse, healthcare policymaker, or research scientist. It matters to me that the education my peers have received has not provided them with the spark, informed background, or wonder to become the next university professor or Nobel Prize winner because of a dearth of STEM resources or awareness of high school STEM empowerment programs. It matters to me that the schools in Detroit do not focus on STEM because there are competing concerns such as having clean water to drink.

I created the FocuSStem NextGen Program to provide STEM-interested high school students from the Southeastern Michigan area with an in-person, immersive one-day experience at a busy academic medical center located in their community. I realized that my own one-day experience turned into a six-year journey filled with remarkable opportunities for intellectual growth, community outreach, and development of empathy.

Dr. King “had a dream” integral to which is the “fierce urgency of now.” Detroit has the lowest literacy rate of any district in the United States with rates 90 and 97% below proficiency in reading and math, respectively. I am saddened and outraged that it requires a lawsuit to establish the right to literacy for Detroit students. These are my peers who deserve equal education but are awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit pending in the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio to determine whether they can receive the proper support to learn.

Regardless of the outcome, the time is now to harness the power of the younger generation guided by the principles of civil disobedience to demand change in this unjust disparity. Regardless of the outcome, high school students like me have the determination and ability to make positive change not by humiliation but by respectful action—aggregating caring community members through PuLSE and sharing action steps for sustaining the change we want to see.

Katie Heath is a Junior Fellow at The PuLSE Institute

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