Speaking Up and Standing Up in Times of Challenge

February 21, 2021

In February 2021, Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, Michigan, held its first Annual MLK Jr. Writing Contest in honor of Black History Month. Students were asked to respond to the essential question, “Where do you stand in times of challenge and controversy?” This question was inspired by Dr. King’s own words: “The ultimate measure of a [person] is not where [they] stand in moments of comfort and convenience but where [they] stand at times of challenge and controversy.” Two students were chosen as winners.

By Mya Williams, Class of 2021

It is an undeniable fact that Martin Luther King Jr. was a brilliant speaker, activist and minister.  Most of all, he was a courageous leader. He stood up for what was right, even when all the odds were stacked against him and when things were grueling. As the quote explains, anyone can stand up for the right thing when it is easy and convenient, but what matters is standing up when it isn’t easy. In this quote, Dr. King is calling on us to be leaders and step up to the plate, even when the going gets tough.


I am truly passionate about social justice, diversity and inclusion, and political awareness. I’m a firm believer in actively participating in the change you want to see in the world. The American Civil Liberties Union is one tool that I have utilized. I had the amazing opportunity to attend their Summer Institute. I learned more about social justice issues and how to make a difference in my community. Learning about issues that I am passionate about is a huge step in the direction of creating change. One of my most fulfilling public service activities was serving as an intern for a leader in my community. I interned for a candidate running for Canton Township Supervisor. I did phone banking and also delivered campaign literature. During the primaries and presidential debates, I noted each candidate, their stance on important issues and listed comments I agreed and disagreed with.

While others wondered why I wasted my time doing this and believed I was devoting too much time to such controversial topics, I had deep personal satisfaction knowing that I was educated on our potential future leaders. I was too young to vote, but it prepared me for the future and taught me how to practice making informed decisions. To bring about change, it is necessary to be informed and be an active participant. This is so meaningful to me because I believe that if you want something done, you have to go after it. If we aren’t fighting for change, then who will? And “if not now, when?”

Additionally, I consider myself an active participant in my school’s community. I hold several leadership positions that require me to stand up in times of challenge and controversy. As HRC co-chair (Human Relations Council), I plan important assemblies like the Black History Month Assembly, organize other diversity programs and encourage positive interactions within the school. While I thoroughly enjoy it, this kind of work can be controversial and challenging at times. Not everyone is ecstatic about learning about other cultures and how to appreciate our differences. However, in  divisiveness, I remain true to what I know is right, and I know the importance of treating others with kindness, respecting others with different backgrounds, and most importantly, educating  others instead of ignoring uninformed comments and beliefs. Although it can be contentious and uncomfortable, it is incredibly important to use your voice to speak up for what is right.

Beyond community service, leadership and school activities, I find that having genuine conversations with people is a great way to stand up in times of challenge and controversy. This past year has been difficult, and our nation has gone through everything from a pandemic to continuous racial unrest to political divisiveness. While many desire to shy away from these topics, I try my best to dive into them. I have seen many social media posts and heard many comments that have sparked me to react. I have engaged in countless candid conversations with friends about the issues that face our country and the world today. It can be extremely difficult talking to someone who has vastly different beliefs than you and even harmful ideologies.  However, I find joy in these conversations. Knowing that I can change someone’s perspective on matters such as racism, police brutality, classism and so much more is powerful. I know that it can be extremely hard to speak up about these topics, but I encourage others to do it. Silence gets us nowhere, and to avoid being complicit, we must speak up, stand up and do everything we can to spark change in our society.

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  1. Monica Marie Knipfer, RSM

    I was very moved and grateful with your sharing. Perhaps one day, I will be able to claim I read your intentions in 2021 when you hold a political office. You give me courage for our future. MUCH GRATITUDE!


  2. Mike Poulin, Mercy Justice Team

    This is excellent, Mya. You are inspiring!


  3. Rosemary Hudak

    Mya, you have an energy around justice issues that is inspiring. Thank you for all you are doing to promote kindness, respect and mercy for others. You are the hooe of the future.


  4. DIANE ODONNELL

    I am also passionate about social justice issues. I have been in the social work field for over 25+ years. I provided counseling services to the families after the Sandy Hook shooting back in Conneticut. I am a member of the NAACPand have partcipated in various Black Lives Matter protests, and town hall meetings in the Central Valley of California, which is a very difficult audience to have conversation with. I love the work that I do, and my focus now is assisting in advancing access to behavioral health services to marginalized communities in rural areas, where services are at the bare minimum currently. I enjoyed your post and am inspired by your commitment. It is passion, I believe that drives us in this work, and now that we have a compassionate, tranformative leader in the White House, there is hope for the future. But the work is not done. The thing is that we cannot remain silent or look the other way when wrongs are being committed. We need to act with courage, take a stand, and bring solutions to the table.


  5. Sr Celeste Marie

    Thank you for your action and reflection! You give me energy to continue on the journey!


  6. Martha Larsen

    I was so pleased reading your blog. May there be more graduates from Mercy high schools that think and act like you do. I am really proud of you and pleased that you are influencing at a Mercy high school.


  7. Sr Vicky Arndorfer

    Your truth and your willingness to speak that truth give me hope for the future!


  8. Janet Rozzano

    This is a great essay, Mya. I admire your strong commitment to service, even when it is challenging or personally demanding.


  9. Sister Louise Foisy

    Mya, your level of action, commitment, communication and service are truly inspiring to me, a former high school teacher and a Sister of Mercy in NH. Blessings on you in current role and on your future.


  10. Carolyn McWatters, RSM

    Mya, what an impressive and inspiring testament! You make me so hopeful for our future, and also challenge me to greater action in my own life. Thank you so much, and may you be blessed in your endeavors for justice!


  11. Sister Natalie Rossi

    Mya, I am inspired by your determination to not keep silent. I pray that you will be supported on your journey. I pray that you are filled with the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit.


  12. Jeanne Christensen, RSM

    Mya, you and other young women like you give me so much hope for our future. You are and will continue to carry our Mercy mission into the future — I am so grateful! Like so many Sisters of Mercy, I have addressed social justice issues for a long time and knowing our work is being carried forward by you and other young women of Mercy is a gift. Every blessing!


  13. Maria Klosowski

    Mya, thank you for your passion, persistence and joy.


  14. Sue Ann Dunford

    Monica Marie Knipfer has said it best. Mya, may you lead boldly in the future. The world needs a hefty dose of courageous energy. Thank you for sharing yours.


  15. SR. RICHARD MARY BURKE

    Mya, you make us all so proud of you and other young persons like yourself who are so committed to personal beliefs! As a Mercy educator, I give thanks to you, your teachers and classmates for supporting one another and challenging one another to be faithful to those principles that are the foundation of our faith, our Church and the heart of American Democracy. Thank you for your courage and humility to share with all of us.
    Blessings!