The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights (NCRCR) has announced the winners of its 2010 Written Essay and Visual Image Contest. The contest entitled “What Does Equality Mean to You?” asked youth ages 14-18 across the United States to define equality from their unique perspectives by submitting either a written entry or a visual image such as a drawing, cartoon or photograph. Winners were selected by a panel of high-profile judges, including singer and songwriter Alicia Keys, comedian Margaret Cho, Congressman Keith Ellison (MN), Congressman Gregory Meeks (NY) and NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.
Naomi Lattanzi, 16, of Los Altos, California won for her courageous personal essay entitled “Are You?” in which she discusses how she feels when a schoolmate asks whether she is a lesbian. As the nation continues to struggle with issues affecting the rights and everyday lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (“LGBTQQ”) communities such as marriage equality, bias attacks and bullying, Naomi’s answer seems fitting: “I don’t know, but you can’t take away what sense of self I have. As long as I have people who accept me you can’t make me feel inferior. You’ll eventually have to accept the truth: We are equals.”
18-year-old Misra Walker from the Bronx, New York is the winner in the visual image category. Misra’s powerful image of a Latino man standing in front of an American flag with his arms crossed over his chest and eyes downcast evokes the conflicting feelings of frustration and hope experienced by many immigrants across this country as they seek to realize the “American Dream.” This image seems particularly appropriate given the debates about immigration and citizenship happening across the country.
Finally, 18-year-old Abisola Barbara Williams from Brooklyn, New York was the first runner-up in the visual entry category. Abisola’s piece, a collage of three images featuring a young woman wearing a Muslim headscarf, another without head covering, and someone wearing a bracelet with the word “peace,” spoke to her sense of how the various aspects of race, gender and religion interact to form a complex pattern of discrimination that has resulted in her Muslim peers experiencing violence and harassment on the streets of New York. Again, this image addressed a timely and important topic given the recent rise in anti-Islamic sentiment across the country.
The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights invited winners and finalists to New York City this week in order to recognize their leadership efforts. Naomi and Abisola participated in a training session on how to speak about civil rights issues and met with a variety of civil rights advocates.
Young people have always played an important role in the struggle for civil rights and social justice. Despite the accusations of laziness and indifference leveled at them, youth political involvement over the past few years has broken every stereotype about the apathy of young people in America. During the 2008 presidential campaign we saw first-hand that this ‘Millennial Generation’ is thinking about and playing an active role in civil rights, politics and social issues. Naomi, Misra and Abisola represent a new generation of leaders whose activism and innovation will continue to shape the landscape of civil rights and social justice in the 21st century.