CLEVELAND, OH (SEPTEMBER 12, 2019) – The 12th Annual Stop the Hate: Youth Speak Out scholarship contest for 6th – 12th graders kicked off with a launch event at the Maltz Museum last night with a record-breaking 98 students, parents, and educators in attendance. Those who joined were interested in learning more about their chance to win prizes ranging from $400 to $40,000 for writing an essay about their experiences confronting hate. While students learned about contest guidelines, listened to tips on how to write a great essay, and discovered what happens when you’re selected as a finalist, they also walked away knowing that even a small act of good can make a big impression.
One of last year’s contest finalists, Kennon Walton, now a senior at University School, shared his award-winning essay and then answered questions about what it’s like to participate in the contest. He told the audience that he knew what he wanted to write about after his uncle was killed in a case of police brutality. He wrote:
Minutes before lying in the backseat of a police car, unconscious, John Owens* was frisked and choked by two local police officers for “seeming suspicious” outside of his neighborhood mini-mart. He died before reaching the hospital… a man’s heartbreaking transition from idolized army veteran to insignificant statistic.
But Kennon also said he didn’t know when he started writing how he would tie in the critical action step of influencing community change.
“The contest has a rubric that places value on action. What has someone done, or what will they do, to improve a life, a community, the world? Sometimes students don’t know they have a story to tell until they sit down and start writing. Or they don’t realize what they want to do to create change until they process their thoughts in writing. The act of writing in itself is powerful,” said Dahlia Fisher, Director of External Relations for the Maltz Museum.
For Kennon, the realization of what he was doing to create change came as he wrote. His essay explains:
In response to these feelings, I wanted to establish a solution that would not only protest brutality but develop better relationships between officers and those who fear them. What I came up with is not only wholly practical but also tragically overlooked: cordial communication.
Kennon went to his uncle’s neighborhood and conferred with officers who then established meetings so both sides could be heard. In his own neighborhood, he and his peers started communicating more with officers; according to Kennon, unjust confrontations decreased.
One audience member thanked Kennon for writing and sharing his essay saying, “What an incredible opportunity to hear from you. What a remarkable young man.”
Fisher says this is one of the goals of the contest: “The contest offers students a platform for their voices to be heard.” Some 3,000 students from twelve counties across Northeast Ohio participate each year, and Fisher says the Maltz Museum hopes to see that number grow. “We’re currently working on establishing the first-ever Stop the Hate Summit, in which all students who submit essays will be invited to attend a special one-day conference on April 26. We hope this encourages more students and schools to submit their essays, knowing that even if they don’t win prize money they can still get something really special out of participating.”
The Stop the Hate Summit, which is being created in partnership with Tri-C and will be held on its eastern campus, is intended to network students from across communities who have had an experience that caused them to stand up and speak out against bias and discrimination. The Summit will provide resources and training on diversity and inclusion. Each student who attends will receive a Stop the Hate Upstander Certificate which can be cited on college applications.
“A select twenty-five finalists end up on stage at the big awards ceremony and a truly remarkable group of ten juniors and seniors read their essays in front of a panel of judges as they vie for the grand prize of $40,000,” explained Fisher. “But, with the addition of the Summit, we are encouraging all students to keep going, keep learning, keep standing up for what they believe. We want to give them more tools to do that, and reward them with a certificate for being part of such a special day. First, though, they have to submit an essay.”
Page Zenovic, an English teacher from Mayfield City Schools, was moved when she learned about the contest and knew she wanted her students to participate, not for the prize money but because “It aligns with what we are teaching,” she said. However, three of Zenovic’s students placed in top positions, out of thousands of entries. When asked the secret, she said, “Write from the heart.”
Videos from the 2019 award ceremony are available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GE0Bc2QfUc&list=PL_1I50yTTOBtBoEx0gmWfH7qFAV5c8bVq
About the Contest
The Maltz Museum annually awards $100,000 in scholarships and anti-bias education grants through the Stop the Hate contest, which gives Northeast Ohio students a platform to voice their experiences with bias and discrimination and speak out in support of diversity and inclusion. Now in its 12th year, the contest has so far engaged over 30,000 students across 12 Northeast Ohio counties and awarded over $1 million to students and schools.
Every year a new theme is selected to inspire students in their writing. This year the Maltz Museum honors the memory and spirit of maestro Leonard Bernstein, one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, whose life and legacy are explored in the Museum’s new special exhibition Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music, on view September 25 – March 1, 2020. When speaking about why he wrote music, Bernstein famously said, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more devotedly than ever before.”
In 500 words or less, students are invited to think about their own life. Have they witnessed or experienced acts of injustice, racism, bigotry, or discrimination? How were they impacted by what they experienced, saw, or heard? What did they do, or what will they do, in response to these circumstances in order to create justice and positive change in their community?
Essays for grades 6 – 10 are due January 8, 2020 . Essays for grades 11 & 12 are due January 20, 2020.
More information about the contest can be found online at www.maltzmuseum.org/STH