Essay contest focuses on the topic of racial justice

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Chatham’s Community Remembrance Coalition (CRC-C) formed two years ago to “seek the whole truth of Black history of Chatham County, justice based on that truth, and reconciliation to move forward with better race relations in the County to the benefit of all.” Now, the organization is sponsoring an essay contest for local high school students on the subject of racial justice.

This week, we speak with the CRC-C’s Mary Harris about the contest. A semi-retired educator with more than 30 years of experience in the field, Harris has served Chatham County Schools as a teacher and as Central Services Coordinator of Employment and Human Relations, among other positions. A certified Diversity Trainer and Certified Teacher Mentor, Harris is also a member of the West Chatham NAACP and is the vice president of the Chatham High School Alumni Association.

Her role in the CRC-C is to assist in planning, organizing and meeting with key members in the community, churches and the educational community to develop plans of action to mobilize people to make change for the betterment of the county and country for all people.

Tell us about the contest ...

The Racial Justice Essay Contest is presented by the CRC-C and Chatham NAACP branches 5377 and 5378 in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama.

The topic of the essay contest is telling the truth about our nation’s history of racial injustice. Prizes will total $5,000, divided among the winners. Essay length is between 800 and 1,000 words. The contest is open to students in grades 9-12 attending public high schools in Chatham County.

The contest is open now and entries are due by April 20, 2022. Representatives from EJI will read, evaluate and choose essay winners.

The education committee of CRC-C has been working closely with staff from Chatham County Schools to develop the contest and communicate with students and teachers. Interested students should go to the CRC-C.org website to see instructions for the interest form and the address to submit the form. The form is to be signed by parents or guardians. Essays will be submitted through a process identified by the school leaders (principal or designee).

How did the idea for the essay contest come about?

The mission of Community Remembrance Coalition-Chatham is to improve race relations and to enhance comity, empathy and understanding across and within Chatham County’s races, faiths and communities. CRC-C has been working closely with EJI to promote a new era of truth and justice that starts with confronting our history of racial injustice. This essay contest was born from a conversation between staff at EJI and members of CRC-C. EJI has sponsored similar contests in other cities and states.

The topic is “racial justice.” How was that topic chosen, and how do you envision participating students tackling that subject?

The dehumanizing myth of a racial hierarchy endures today because we don’t talk about it. Students are asked to examine the history of a topic of racial injustice and to discuss its legacy today. Essays should explain the chosen topic using a specific historical event(s), explore how the injustice persists, and imagine solutions for a future free from racial injustice. Students are encouraged to reflect on how the topic impacts their own lives and communities.

How will you compel students to get interested in entering?

Central Services of Chatham County is assisting CRC-C in identifying social studies, English, history and other teachers and teams to circulate information about the essay competition to their students. They have worked closely with CRC-C Chatham to create guidelines and requirements for the contest.

We at CRC-C will offer tutorials, help with identifying resources and offer support as needed. Students are seekers of “greater truths” about social concerns. Most students will have heard of “divides” such as black/white, rich/poor and the social injustices of people of color as they have navigated through their schools and communities. The compelling topic and substantial prize money should generate interest on the part of students.

What will you be looking for in the submitted entries, and how will judging take place?

Judging will take place as outlined in the essay announcement. EJI notes that winning essays usually include the following features:

• A compelling, creative introduction

• Supportive paragraphs that use clear examples and various sources

• Personal reflections that relate to the topics and reveal how past and current-day issues relate to racial injustice in America

• A strong conclusion that ties together the main ideas and introduces a meaningful idea or call to action

• Properly gives credit to source materials to avoid plagiarism

• Has been carefully edited for spelling and grammar

Students who are selected as winners will be asked to read or share their stories at a public recognition event with the Chatham County Board of Education or the Community Remembrance Coalition-Chatham at a date to be announced later.

Do you envision this as an annual contest?

We will assess participation and level of interest to determine if the contest is a one-time or an annual event. This essay contest is an attempt to give students a platform for expressing their thoughts, feelings and conscience on the topic of “racial justice.”

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