Education

2 students win national medals for documentary on Charlotte school desegregation

Joseph Chong, left, celebrates winning second place in documentaries with his partner Catherine McMillan, middle, and Julian Hipkins, right, a member of the National History Day Board of Trustees.
Joseph Chong, left, celebrates winning second place in documentaries with his partner Catherine McMillan, middle, and Julian Hipkins, right, a member of the National History Day Board of Trustees.

Two rising seniors put aside their high schools’ rivalry and worked together to compete in the National History Day Contest, with their documentary on the desegregation of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

They won second place in their category in the national competition.

Joseph Chong, a student at Providence High, and Catherine McMillan, a student at Ardrey Kell High, entered the group documentary category. McMillan said the district’s current two-year review of student assignment made this year’s theme of “Taking A Stand In History” feel relevant to them and their community.

“This year, we kind of felt like it was the year for us,” she said.

Chong said they started their research immediately after the end of last year’s competition in July 2016. They combed through newspaper clippings, archives and original documents. They also gathered first-hand accounts from people who have played important parts in race relations throughout Charlotte’s history.

McMillan said she enjoys telling untold stories. She wants to start a National History Day Club at her high school, hosting workshops and teaching others how to research their topics.

“Since I am going into my senior year, I want to leave a legacy,” she said.

Chong said this year their project inspired him to pursue law school and a career in civil rights litigation to try to correct some of the problems addressed in his documentary. He wants to adapt the documentary for use by the public to learn about Charlotte’s history.

“I think this year in particular was one of the most amazing experiences we’ve had,” Chong said.

During the award ceremony at the University of Maryland College Park, Chong said he was surprised to hear his name announced as the winner of a four-year, full-ride scholarship to Case Western Reserve University.

“It is one of the most relieving things in the world,” Chong said.

Both Chong and McMillan have been participating in National History Day since they were in eighth grade, after their teacher, Louann Rives, introduced them to the event. Rives has been working as their coach and mentor since, but she said their teacher-student relationship has become more of a friendship.

“They are just the most dedicated, accomplished students I have ever worked with,” Rives said.

Jamie Gwaltney: 704-358-5612, @jamielgwaltney

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