Harford Humanitarian essay winner

Alejandra Huezo, an 18-year-old senior at Bel Air High School, reads her first-place essay during the 2014 Harford County Humanitarian Awards Luncheon Tuesday. (DAVID ANDERSON AEGIS STAFF / January 14, 2014)

High school seniors Alejandra Huezo, of Bel Air, and Malik Tyler, of Joppatowne, were honored as the 2014 Humanitarian Award essay winners for Harford County Tuesday.

Alejandra, 18, and Malik, 17, were the respective first- and second-place winners in the writing contest, which is sponsored by the Harford County Human Relations Commission.

They were honored Tuesday during the county's annual Joseph Bond/Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Awards Luncheon, which was held at the Water's Edge Events Center in Belcamp.

Dr. King, who was assassinated in 1968, led the fight to end racial segregation for black Americans and establish legal civil rights protections.

The late Mr. Bond served as the head of the Harford County chapter of the NAACP and worked for racial equality in the county.

"These men were not simply dreamers," Sylvia Bryant, manager of the Office of Human Relations, said during her welcoming remarks for Tuesday's luncheon."They turned their ideas into actions."

Bryant asked the elected and appointed officials who attended to "take a few minutes" to speak with the contest winners.

"They are the 2014 Humanitarians for Harford County, and we want to encourage them and inspire them to continue the pursuit of their dreams," she said.

The high school seniors who entered the essay contest were asked to write about a quote from Dr. King: "We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation," contained in his historic "I Have a Dream" speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1963.

The contest entrants had to describe how they would improve their communities based on the sentiment expressed in Dr. King's quote.

"I completely agree with him, but opportunities don't fall from the sky," Alejandra said, reading from her first-place essay. "You need to work for them to happen."

The Bel Air High School student moved to the United States with her family from El Salvador several years ago and has lived in Harford County since 2012.

She wrote about how she took the challenge of dealing with the differences between the Salvadoran and American school systems, and turned it into an opportunity to learn.

"I took them as an encouragement," she said.

Alejandra said she told herself: "Now you can learn more about the culture; now you can pursue your happiness, your future."

She also wrote about dealing with her family's first move from El Salvador to Georgia and then from Georgia to Maryland.

"I was angry with my parents because they made me leave everything I was used to, again," she said of the move to Harford County. "I didn't like the idea of having to adapt to a new place for a second time."

Alejandra said she acclimated to the county through socializing and getting involved in school and community activities.

She volunteered with the LASOS Inc. nonprofit organization, whose name is short for Linking All So Others Succeed, which provides assistance to non-English-speaking families, as well as at-risk youths and literacy services for adults, according to the organization's website.

"I felt good there, helping those kids who reminded me of myself," she said.