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Martin Luther King Day paper
Sarabeth Berman
Ms. Bower, English
November 1999

The Spirit of Martin Luther King Junior: As Seen through Craig Keilburger

On January 17, we commemorate the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We celebrate his fight against racism and violence, his knowledge, his courage and, most importantly, his hope and perseverance. Our newspapers are filled with stories of hate crimes, the web contains postings of offensive racial slurs, and the evening news depicts the persistence of hate-filled organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. Although it may seem that King's spirit has died, people like Craig Keilburger of Toronto, Canada, make us remember that his spirit survives.

When Keilburger was twelve years old, he read a newspaper article about a Pakistani boy his age, Iqbal Masih. The article told the tragic story of a boy who, like many other children around the world, had begun work at age four. Paid next to nothing, Iqbal spent the next six years of his life chained to a rug loom, working twelve hours a day. Iqbal's life was cut short at age twelve when he was shot dead in the streets of his village because he tried to organize an uprising of the enslaved children. When Keilburger read this article, he vowed to keep Iqbal's cause alive.

After some research, Keilburger founded a group called "Free the Children".  He recruited classmates to help him.  Researching and raising money for the children in countries all over the world was not enough for Keilburger; he wanted to explore the situation himself. "I just wanted to learn more on the issue of child labor. I wanted to make sure that we are not imposing our Western culture on these people. I wanted to speak to the children. I wanted to hear their views, ask them 'What do you want? How can your life be better?'" This prompted his decision to travel to Asia.

Keilburger speaks about his perception of child labor and how it was disproved once he traveled to Asia. He had thought that child labor abuse was in the "deep, dark alleys,...[where] no one could see it, beyond public scrutiny." But he found that this was not the case; it was practiced in the open, everywhere. Most people think that slavery has been abolished but, "the worst type of slavery...still exits today -- slavery of children." Keilburger says.

Craig Keilburger, now 16, began his organization when he was 13. Like King, he fights against inequality and injustice. Keilburger's organization has developed into the only international human rights group run by children. "Free the Children" has groups in over 25 nations and runs 35 schools in countries ranging from India to Nicaragua. It sets up alternative sources of income for the families who used to have no other choice but to send their children to work. As a result of all his accomplishments, Craig has met many political leaders, including the Dali Lama, the Queen of England, and the President of the United States and Hillary Clinton. He even met the Late Mother Teresa. Keilburger's unbelievable ambitions do not stop at what he has already achieved. He says that someday, "I want to be involved in stopping wars before they begin." Not bad for a 16 year old!

Each of us sees injustice everyday.  King and Keilburger saw injustice and tried to end it. Martin Luther King Jr. preached his dream "that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'we hold these truth's to be self evident; that all men are created equal.'" Craig Kielburger travels through third world countries to stop child labor. Both inspire us, both challenge us and both dare us to be builders of a new world, a world where civility rules. Their spirit is the essence of civility. This spirit is the force which might propel us to achieve a world of kindness and freedom.

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