St. Mary’s Dominican High School sophomore Samantha White was awarded second place in The Historic New Orleans Collection’s (THNOC) inaugural student essay contest that asked students in grades 6-12 to reflect on experiences that have inspired them to create change. THNOC received nearly 200 submissions for the contest that opened on February 3rd and closed on March 13th. Emerging essay themes included environmental awareness, racism, bullying and the need for kindness, and questioning the system of thought and power in the world. In her essay, “My Voice Will Be Heard,” White gave a detailed account of the inspiration she found visiting sites related to the civil rights movement.
“We were so impressed with the submissions,” said Jenny Schwartzberg, THNOC’s curator of education. “We did not expect the level of engagement or the quality that we saw demonstrated in so many of the essays that we received.”
THNOC awarded cash prizes to the winners in the middle and high school categories: $250 for first place, $150 for second, and $100 for third. Most of the respondents were from across Louisiana—New Orleans, Bastrop, Lafayette, and Shreveport were heavily represented—but several essayists hailed from Illinois and Montana. Student essay contest winners are on the THNOC website –https://www.hnoc.org/programs/student-essay-contest
“Instead of us bringing our stories to students,” Schwartzberg said, “we wanted them to bring their stories and their voices to us.” She noted that in the current environment of the coronavirus pandemic, these students’ examinations of history and visions for the future “were so hopeful to read. These are the kids who will be tackling the problems of the world in the years to come.”
In her congratulations email to White, Schwartzberg shared that the judges’ panel was impressed by White’s essay’s ability “to link historical change-makers with your own experiences. Your voice as a writer is strong and clear, and led your essay to stand out among the almost 200 submissions we received.”
My Voice Will Be Heard
by Samantha White
When I was a little girl, my parents took me on a trip to Memphis, Tennessee. We visited the National Civil Rights Museum. Learning about the African American leaders before me, who made a difference in America, made me proud to be an African American. By visiting the National Civil Rights Museum, I was able to learn more about racism, inequality, and the injustices African Americans endured during the Jim Crow Era.
During a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, I saw the Lorraine Motel. This was the motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It felt so surreal to be in the same place Dr. King was when he was murdered. My mind brought me back to the 60’s, a time of repulsive police brutality and segregation. I visited the Dexter Avenue Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama. Seeing both of these historical sites was an unforgettable moment for me.
A few years later, I joined one of Dillard University’s summer programs. At the end of the program, some students were selected for an educational trip to Atlanta. I was one of those fortunate students. While in Atlanta, we toured Spellman, Morehouse, and Clark University. We visited the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park and it included the Ebenezer Baptist Church. When we arrived at the church, we witnessed something beyond terrible. Someone had put four confederate flags in front of the building. Newscasters followed us to the scene. They asked us how we felt about this disgusting hate crime. Every last one of us said how angry it made us feel to look at those flags. To know there were still people trying to degrade African Americans was beyond my belief. It was infuriating to witness the hate and discrimination that was still present in America.
I told my grandmother about the incident in Atlanta once the trip was over. She told me she never thought racism would go away. My grandmother dealt with racism when she visited Mississippi. She said the best thing to do in those situations is pray and speak up for what’s right. My grandmother and the students from the Atlanta trip spoke up for what was right. Dr. King died speaking against racism. My way of speaking up is through my participation in my school’s diversity club (Students for Human Dignity and Diversity in Action). I’ve learned more about injustices and the actions necessary to promote change. Dealing with issues involving racism has made me stronger as a student and as an overall person.
Every culture is unique and beautiful and no one deserves to be treated unfairly because of their race. Being a member of diversity club has given me the initiative to fight for what is right. Seeing the difference my voice has made tells me that I must continue fighting for equality. I am the change, and so is my generation.