One by one, the students walked onto the West Charlotte High auditorium stage as family and teachers applauded. The winners were silent as they wore proud smiles, knowing their voices have been heard.
Students, parents and teachers of many nationalities braved freezing, driving rain and strong winds to fill the building Thursday night for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Art and Writing Contest. The 19th annual event titled Live it, Share it, Extend it: The Dream of a Global Community allowed students to use various mediums for expressing their interpretation of Kings message.
For Bre Anna Washington, a junior at Vance High, the message is what a diverse country can accomplish together. She got a first-place award for her collage of different cultures that was dominated by a hands theme, featuring Kings face and the Lincoln Memorial.
She said her inspiration came from the heart and a magazine.
I opened a National Geographic and the picture was right there. I saw two hands and the hands were both black. I love doing collage work, so I took the two black hands and two multi-cultured hands, and from there I built it off that.
Bre Annas articulate, calm description of her work belied her excitement about her award. When her name was announced, she said, I was shaking screaming, jumping in the seat! I was freaking out, I was so happy.
In addition to the 34 winners in the first-place, second-place, third-place and honorable mention categories, individual school winners were honored onstage for each of the four age groups: kindergarten through second grade; third through fifth; sixth through eighth; and ninth through 12th.
Whether words or art, students work shown on the auditorium screen reflected both global and personal themes. Subjects ranged from racial tolerance to peacefulness to teamwork.
At least a couple of the winners mentioned a growing problem they witness firsthand in school: bullying. Sofie Pedersen, a seventh-grader from Collinswood Language Academy who won a first-place writing award, said she was inspired to challenge peoples treatment of others who are different from them, and was thinking of a friend who had been bullied.
Said Yeon Jin Kang, a ninth-grader at Ardrey Kell High: As an Asian, I was bullied or stereotyped as always being smart, even though sometimes that was not the case. So this contest is how I used my voice.
Piedmont IB Middle School seventh-grader Cherise Johnson, a first-place art winner, wanted to share a broader message. When I think about (King), I think about the whole world and that is how I viewed my project his impact on the whole world.
Again this year, first-place winners in the high school category received $500 scholarships from Food Lion. Sixth- through eighth-grade winners got $250; in grades three to five, $150; and K to two, $100.
For the second straight year, Serenity Snead from Clear Creek Elementary was holding one of the oversized scholarship checks after the event. The repeat first-place art winner said she used her inspiration from Dr. King to create a Pay it Forward theme.
First-place writing winner Mitchell King said he decided on a teamwork theme after talking with friends. The end of his essay:
I run the ball to a touchdown of care! Shoot the ball to a touchdown of care! The world is like a team that moves the ball! Save the ball and donate it to others! I score a goal and there is justice!
I liked the sports metaphor, said Mitchell, a Cornelius Elementary second-grader, showing an advanced vocabulary at the post-ceremony reception. Whether its sports or something else, its about working together.
The students time in the limelight wasnt limited to the ceremony.
Each of the first-place winners was invited to be in the Charlotte Martin Luther King Jr. Parade last Saturday, with the winning art pieces on display at the Harvey B. Gantt center. First-place writers were invited to read their work at the Wells Fargo Auditorium at Knight Theater. Overall winners also were to get special recognition at a prayer breakfast on MLK Day at The Crown Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Its a pretty great week, Mitchell said.