Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Forty students from 14 D.C. schools were rewarded yesterday for writing essays about justice and how it affected their personal lives and those around them.

One student wrote about drugs on a neighborhood playground. A fourth-grade student wrote about “taxation without representation” in the District. A few students wrote about the D.C. public school system, their school buildings and scarce resources.

Several winners read their essays to nearly 150 other students, parents and teachers at the 19th annual Celebration of Youth at the Sumner School in Northwest yesterday.

“These children know what justice is all about,” said Jim Brady who, with his wife Dorothea, manages the Global Harmony Through Personal Excellence Inc., which sponsors the annual essay contest.

“Justice is probably the most difficult theme we’ve ever done,” Mrs. Brady said.

Ariel Harris, a ninth-grader at Francis Junior High School in Northwest, wrote about an incident last summer when a U.S. Park Police officer accused him, his sister Ziggie and friend Zeke of smoking marijuana while the three relaxed on the Potomac River shore in Georgetown. Ariel wrote that as other youths were around, the officer only handcuffed and searched Zeke but found no drugs.

Ariel’s mother later called police but could not find out why other youths in the park were not accused and searched.

What was the difference? Where was justice? Ariel asked in the essay.

“You may have guessed the variable — We are African-American teenagers,” Ariel concluded his essay. Ariel won second place and $250.

Sofie Heffernan, a fourth-grader at Key Elementary School in Northwest, who also was a second-place winner, described how her parents had lived in Sudan, where wars forced people to survive with little food in refugee camps.

“For me, the injustice is that they were innocent victims of bad people who destroyed their lives and now they can’t go home,” Sofie wrote.

In her essay, Charlotte Frazier, a seventh-grader at Deal Junior High School in Northwest, compared D.C. schools with those in Montgomery County, which she said was a sign of injustice.

Deal is a “wonderful school,” Charlotte wrote, but that “Schools in the District of Columbia are suffering from injustice. Buildings are falling apart and teachers’ jobs are being cut.

“Why should the many students in Washington, D.C., who live in poverty not have the same nice learning conditions as students in other towns nearby?” she wrote, winning sixth place and $100 in the contest.

Saquonte Wilkinson, a sixth-grader at Prospect Learning Center in Southeast, won first place and $300 after describing a teenager who went to the Benning Park playground and got others to smoke drugs. She described how dealers threw away candy bars and wrapped drugs in the wrappers that they sold to youths.

“I think it is an injustice for drug dealers to roam the streets of American soil and use and sell drugs,” Saquonte wrote. “Parents must do a better job of protecting [their own children] from drug dealers.”

Other winners were: Flannery Fitzgerald, a seventh-grader at Deal Junior High, who won first place and $300 in the junior-high category; Jocelyn Gutierrez, a sixth-grader at Thomson Elementary, and, Amauta Marston-Firmino, a ninth-grader at School Without Walls, who each won third place and $200; Natalie Larkin, a fourth-grader at Key Elementary, and Makonnen Kush, a seventh-grader at Deal Junior High, who each won fifth place and $150 in the elementary and junior high categories; Kerrlyn Emmanuel, a fifth-grader at Shepherd Elementary, and Eric Swaringer, a sixth-grader at Thomson Elementary, who each won sixth place and $100 in the elementary category.

Twenty-seven students won honorable mention.

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