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MLK Symposium honors students around the parish

by Amber McDown

On Sunday, January 16th, the MLK Celebration Committee hosted a commemorative symposium honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Students were given awards for leadership, poetry writing and essay writing. Members of the community also offered their personal thoughts on the theme of the event: “The Dream 2022: Stop the Violence—Save Our Youth and Save Our Community.” Due to COVID restrictions, the conference was held via Zoom.

Ms. Breleisha Gilbert presented the awards for Youth Leadership. These students were nominated by members of the community. The committee selected the winners who are outstanding students who “demonstrate their dedication to social action, positive change, building bridges among races, cultures and communities, and who all show important aspects of service.” The winners of the 6th-8th Grade division were Jaydee Tuttle, nominated by Principal Bewanichi Sheppard,  and Angel Stewart, nominated by Mr. Ron Anderson, both of Webster Jr. High. In the 9th-12th Grade division, the winners were Minden High’s Arionna Thomas, nominated by Dr. Suzan Bailey, and Tyronn Grider, nominated by Mrs. Janice Givens.

Ms. Felicia Harris presented the K-2 Poetry Contest winners. Blythe Burrell, a second-grade student  of J.L. Jones Elementary, won 2nd place, and Kaden Johnson, a first-grade student of J.A. Phillips Elementary, won 1st place. As Kaden stated, “When we’re all nice to each other, we all can be friends.”

For the essay contest, students were asked to write their essays based on this year’s theme. They were asked to consider how violence affects youth and the community, how Dr. King’s dream can help save youth and the community, and how they can continue the dream and change the future. In the 3rd-5th Grade division all of the winners were students of E.S. Richardson: Ayauna Roberson won 3rd place, Turner Wilson won 2nd place, and Wil’lecia Johnson won 1st place. In Wil’lecia’s essay, she exhorts us to make new friends instead of new enemies by following Dr. King’s principles. Webster Jr. High provided the winners for the 6th-8th Grade essay awards. In 3rd place was Tatum Miller, in 2nd was Addison Walker, and the 1st place winner was Brooklyn Davis. In Brooklyn’s essay, she suggests that “coming together at least once a week, if not more, with the community and the youth could make a huge difference.” The high school division, grades 9-12, had winners from a couple of different schools. The 3rd place winner, Devin Harris, and the 2nd place winner, Ada Gilbert, are both students of Minden High. The 1st place winner, Jasmine Sneed, attends Gibsland Coleman High. In Jasmine’s essay, she states that “hatred and division are taking a toll on our youth and community.” She says “our future is not going to change by doing the same things that obviously hadn’t worked in the past.” Winners will receive certificates and monetary awards later this week. Ms. Krystal Harrison was the presenter for these awards. Mrs. Carita Elkins of E.S. Richardson was given an Amazon gift card to use in her classroom for being the teacher with the most entries in the parish.

After the award ceremony, community members and leaders offered some of their personal thoughts. We heard from such speakers as Reginald Bridges, Tessa Flournoy, Roman Holiday, Derek Parker, and Lt. Tokia Harrison. Dr. Grady Smith, principal of Woodlawn Leadership Academy, said that “if Dr. King had to give a speech today, I believe that a key point of his message would be on the state of black-on-black crime. We have to call for a movement to stop the violence in our own communities, among our own children.” Bobby Stromile, a Caddo Parish juvenile attorney, spoke of counseling minors as they come through the legal system. He tells youth “nothing is given for us, everything is hard.” He counsels them on “the importance of getting an education, staying out of trouble, and also the importance of giving back to your community.” Rev. Clarence Bryant ended his speech by saying, “It takes a village to stop violence.”

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