Carnegie Mellon University

Resources for Educators 

Using writing to inspire discussions about difference and discrimination.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards can be a valuable tool for educators to develop empathy and encourage discussion about race, identity, and social justice through writing. 

“These issues are often hard to talk about in a classroom,” said Jim Daniels, founder and director of the awards. “The work of our prizewinners can connect with current students who are going through their own struggles with issues of difference and discrimination and may be hesitant to speak up about it. Reading some of the pieces by these brave young people can inspire others to think and reflect.”

Twenty-one years of prizewinning work is available free on online. Our anthology, Challenges to the Dream: The Best of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards, brings together a powerful selection of poetry and prose from the writing contest’s history. A free study guide to the anthology—accessible below—is organized by themes with reading lists of relevant pieces, group discussion questions, and writing prompts.

New this year are two updated lesson plans on racial discrimination and the school experience, which we hope will be useful as you encourage students to read, discuss, and write about current events. Both are available below.

Each fall, we visit schools to offer classroom workshops to promote writing about difference and discrimination. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, we will work with teachers to determine the best ways to interact with schoolsincluding adding new online visitsthis fall. Please contact us at to plan a school visit or talk with us about ways to incorporate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards in your school. 

The Challenges to the Dream study guide was written and compiled by Kitty Shropshire with assistance from M. Shernell Smith and Jim Daniels.