Middle School Winning Essays 2017

1st Place:  Khadijah Ahmad, gr. 6, Al Fatih Academy, Reston VA

Many People…One Nation

     “It is difficult to get a good picture of you if you have something on your head,” snapped the lady at the US Post office when I went to get my passport photos taken. I looked at the picture that had half my head cut off, and wondered, “Don’t people have hair on their heads?” This was my first experience being discriminated as a Muslim. I felt an agitation in my heart that day. Why did this person not like me? It was only because of who I was, given away by the scarf on my head. That is when I realized that peace begins in the heart. When everyone feels secure, safe and at peace internally from their fellow citizens, then we can say there is peace within that country.

    America being the unique country that it is, has people from all over the world. We differ in our race, color, religion and so on but we share, not only the love for our land but the values and principles that America was founded upon. So why do some focus on the differences? Why is there a lack of understanding and respect for other people? The main reason is ignorance. Ignorance of the other and ignorance of the fact that diversity is a strength and not a problem.

     Ignorance makes people believe what they hear. The media, be it news channels or entertainment, sometimes makes it look like Mexicans are drug dealers, Blacks are criminals, Muslims are terrorists, and Whites are racists. This stereotyping leads to unjust practices like a disproportionate population of blacks in prisons and their harassment and persecution by police. More and more people are holding negative stereotypes about various groups to the extent that we now see individuals lashing out randomly and not just established systems. When random people, who are not even criminals, commit racial or religiously motivated crimes, it shows the spread of hatred within America. What is forgotten is that America is a great nation because of its diverse people and not in spite of them.

     Some think that there shouldn’t be any diversity in America; that, as Jarod Taylor claims, if we were a homogenous nation, there would be peace. They don’t realize that if there weren’t any diversity, America wouldn’t have become the great nation that it is now. On the contrary, diversity has been and is this nation’s strength. When the Europeans discovered America, they were practically starting from scratch on a raw planet. Setting aside the dark and regrettable beginning with the Natives and the African Americans (by no means do I mean to minimize the injustice of genocide and slavery), bringing America up to par with other advanced nations could not have been achieved without the sweat and blood of the blacks. Once it was at par with other countries, it surpassed them all and went higher only because of its immigration policies where it attracted the geniuses and intellectuals of practically all other continents with the promise of opportunity and a good life.  It was with the help of these outsiders that America became the smartest, strongest, and most powerful country in the world. Even today our advancement in science and philosophy will suffer if immigrants are banned from the US.

     Some want others to think and have the same ideology as them. However, that does not bring excellence. If only they paid attention to their childhood cartoons, this lesson is routinely taught. Even Strawberry Shortcake taught Peppermint Fizz a lesson about welcoming differences when she invited her to a party where everyone dressed the same and wanted the same treats. Peppermint realized that although Rainbow Sherbet was different, she added to the beauty of Strawberry land.

     So what can be done about this situation? How could we make America and Americans realize this? The solution would be to educate ourselves, others and the media. We must first look at ourselves . How much do we know about other races, cultures, and communities? The more you know about someone’s race, the easier it is to talk to them and make friends with them. You could go to the local library and read books on other cultures, you could go on the web and search it up, and you could learn about other cultures by meeting with members of those communities.

     We should reach out others beginning with our neighbors to other communities and religious groups. For example, you could host a party and invite all of your neighbors even if you don’t know them. Get to know them! Participating in community events can get various groups together. I had that experience when my class read out Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the local community center where various other groups were paying tribute to this leader through song or speeches. I could see the surprise on some faces to see Muslim girls in hijab re-enacting that great speech. It was educational for many. Little things like that can sometimes make a big difference. Getting involved in local community events will help others know about you, and you know about others, and you will make new friends. Inviting the media to these events and into our homes and religious houses will also help educate them.

     No one is evil, although some act evil because of the misconceptions or beliefs they hold. No one enjoys hate, and everyone enjoys love.  The lady at the Post Office was not enjoying and definitely not at peace when she was sending us to CVS because she didn’t want to serve us. Neither were we. If we could only get to know one another, understand each other’s ways and cultures, appreciate the colors that God has created, see the beauty in the differences and the benefits in diversity, we would learn to live in peace and pool our strengths to reach new heights as opposed to divide and let our weaknesses and ignorance take over and make us bitter and unhappy.

2nd Place: Anaya Surve, gr. 8, Moody M.S., Henrico VA

     Audre Lorde once proclaimed, “It’s not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Americans come from all over the world with an array of backgrounds. Yet, it becomes difficult for people to understand and learn to accept the different backgrounds within the United States. Few children and adults are familiar with the myriad of races, ethnicities, heritages, and economical classes. Diversity in a community can make people more diligent, hard-working, and overall progressive. In order to build an understanding and respect for one another among people of different heritages and beliefs, America should embrace its heterogeneity. I can use social media platforms to spread awareness, and we can diversify school learning material. As a nation we should adopt the positive connotation aligned with the term “Melting Pot”.

     Specifically, in order to build a community of different ethnicities, I will first use social media to inform the public about the similarities among various races and backgrounds. The “Just Like You” Non Profit Organization has been successful in educating the public using Facebook and Instagram about how special needs children are just like the rest of us. The success of this project indicates that highlighting different cultures and backgrounds would also lead towards understanding. The young generation thrives on social media and is very active on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Another way to achieve awareness is to create assemblies or events such as international food day so students can become more acquainted with foods from other areas of the world. As an assembly, we can bring multicultural writers and musicians in to talk to the school such as Sandra Cisneros and Nikki Giovanni. Additionally, I will read books at the library or in my neighborhood about other cultures to preschoolers and young children. Books such as Its a Small World by Robert B. Sherman as well as Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer are great starting points for elementary schoolers to learn about diversity.

     Furthermore, schools must be taught with more diverse literature, history, and games. If students begin to learn about other cultures and countries around the world early on in life, they will accept surrounding people in the future. This action should begin in electives in elementary schools such as music and art. Music should be taught in class with various languages and cultural representation. In art class, students should places emphasis on art figures across the world and different art techniques such as Chinese ink painting and the simple, but bold Gond Indian art style. During physical education, a multitude of games are introduced and most of them originated in America or England. Games and sports such as Rugby or Ouch Neech, found in Pakistan should be introduced. Elementary and middle school history curriculum is largely based from the American point of view and rarely focuses on how other countries were impacted by events. Schools should include other countries in early history as well.

     Lastly, as a nation, it is our job to build respect for one another. One of the main root problems is students in grade school become accustomed to spending time with others with their same race, ethnicity, and economy class as an effect, when the students get jobs in the future they think of anybody who is not like them as “different” or “odd.” In order to change the issue, the nation should redistrict schools. Schools are also taught about history from America or ideas which were created by Americans. For example, regarding the number value in math, pi, students are never taught, unless done outside of the pre-written curriculum, that a Greek astronomer founded the idea and an approximate number of pi which was a huge discovery in early times. Teachers skim over the fact that many made discoveries before Americans had the chance to do so. Moreover, in America’s media, televisions and advertising there is a high abundance of a single race. For instance, Americans see very few Asian or African American people modeling for brands or acting in shows. If children grow up without seeing their race or ethnicity in the media, it becomes difficult for them to represent their heritage proudly. Companies should then accept people of different colors and ethnicity to allow children to consistently see others that look like them.

     Therefore, differences such as heritage, ethnicity, and race will be accepted throughout America by making changes as a community, state, and nation. Together the root problem can be tackled, and children across the nation will eventually accept everyone around them, leading to become better citizens. As Audre Lorde said, we should not let our differences divide us, but rather bring us closer together. For years, America has been referred as a “Melting Pot”, and that title embraces our nation’s unique character of diversity.

3rd Place (tie): Perisa Ashar, gr. 8, Moody M.S., Henrico VA

            America is a melting pot of cultures. Compared to other countries, America is one of the most countries that has people derived from various ethnicities and heritages. However, just recently, there have been a chain reaction of hate crimes happening all around the United States, fueled only by racism and misunderstood beliefs of one’s culture. So, how does racism play a role in our world? Is it still existent? Unfortunately, in my community, racism is a major problem for my friends and me. As a girl of Indian descent, I have met some people who have not liked me because of my religion or the color of my skin. However, I believe that racism in our community can be stopped by creating international clubs for children, inviting more people to international celebrations, and starting an online network for the different members of our neighborhood.

     First, I definitely believe that having fun and interactive clubs in schools (especially elementary schools) will help children and teenagers to congregate and get together. At such a young age, children will be more open-minded to other people of different ethnicities and their ideas. These clubs or “playdates” between the children can range from playing sports with each other to helping one another with homework. When I was younger, I loved to play outside. I met a Latino girl and a girl of Chinese descent. Despite our racial differences, we were able to “click in” with each other, and we became best friends right away. As we matured, we started to help each other with projects and homework. I believe that this strong bond of friendship between us had started because we met each at such a young age. Back then, we did not even know what racism was. Therefore, I believe that if our community members and I start a “club” for the young children in our neighborhood, there will be less racism later on as those children grow up into teenagers and adults.  

     Secondly, another way of stopping racism is to invite more members of the community to different international holidays and celebrations. I believe that this will not only help my friends and me, but it will also impact many of the adults in our community. First of all, inviting people to festivities will help them learn about the different and interesting aspects of one’s culture. In addition, during these international celebrations, we will also be able to share our decadent dinners with people of different ethnicities. Even though it is quite hard to believe, several people’s opinions are highly influenced by food. For example, my family and I had hosted a “Diwali” party (known as the “Festival of Lights”) for our entire subdivision. Many people were entertained by the magnificent and diverse colors of the fireworks and sparklers. In addition, many children used different sand colors to create wonderful, traditional Indian designs (known as “rangoli”). At last, many people devoured our Indian feast, which contained “roti” (an Indian bread), “tandoori” chicken, basmati rice, and delectable Indian sweets (known as “Kaju Katli”). As a result, our Diwali celebration turned out to be a great success. My parents and I became long-time friends with neighbors that we were unfamiliar with. Based on this wonderful incident, I believe that racism can be stopped by having a variety of international festivities throughout the community.

     Lastly, having online communications between my friends and the members of the community will play a major role stopping racism. I believe that starting a webpage for the community will let neighbors have a chance of communicating with each other whenever they would like to. A popular website of where we could have this webpage would be Facebook, since it is a commonly used social media app, and it also gives people the ability to “message” each other in online private or group conversations. On the community’s webpage, people have a variety of options that they can post. For example, neighbors can ask questions/favors online, sell some of their “used” items for a lower price, or notify anyone if there is an upcoming party or celebration. Even though my family and I are residents of my community, my mother is a member of a neighboring community association webpage. On that webpage, neighbors are able to sell “used” or antique items to other people for a lower price. Due to this webpage, my mother has been able to make more friends, even though we are from a different community.   If my friends and I create a Facebook webpage for our community, our neighbors will be able to notify and communicate with each other whenever they wish to. This online interaction between the diverse group of neighbors can also help stop the progression of racism.

            In addition, we all need to remember that our beautiful country, America, has been “built” by people from different ethnicities, heritages, and cultures. In addition, I believe that we all should be more appreciative and open-minded to when people from various cultures help contribute to the society. One person, in particular, has not only helped the United but also the entire world is Sundar Pichai, who is the current chief executive officer of Google. Just like my family, Sundar Pichai is also Indian. According to “comScore”, Google Search is the main search engine in the United States Market. Therefore, due to Sundar Pichai’s guidance and leadership, the Google company is able to strive.

     Therefore, the USA is a home to people from various cultures and ethnicities. Racism is a major problem in our community that needs to be stopped. However, we will be able to stop it if we create clubs or groups for young children, invite more people of different races to international festivities, and have some type of an online network for the community. We need to be able to understand that humans are not that different from each other. At the end, “we are all more alike, then we are unalike.”                                       

3rd Place (tie): Ann-Sidney Ragsdale, gr. 6, St. Edward’s-Epiphany School, Richmond VA

     America, known as the melting pot, earned this nickname because of our diversity and different heritages.  We all come together as family and friends to make one great nation.  From a statistical standpoint we are 61% European American, 12% African American, 18% Latin American, 6% Asian American, 1% American Indian/Native Alaskan, and 2% two or more races.  Privately we all have mutual respect for each other, but publicly we have been stereotyped.  We see these stereotypes in the news, movies, and television shows.  We have been conditioned to look at people in certain ways and believe certain things about groups of people without considering cultural beliefs and customs.  What if we integrated our personal respect into public respect?

     UNDERSTANDING is the first turn down the road of respect and it is something everyone can do to easily build respect.  For example, a girl at your school is very outspoken.  Everyone thinks she is rude and too assertive.  If you seek to understand, you will discover one of the values of her religion is to speak your mind and let everyone know your opinion.  You will then understand that she is not being rude; instead, she is being faithful and trusting towards her religion.  Many stereotypes come from people’s display of their culture.  If we come to learn and be immersed in these cultures, we can appreciate their ways.  Once you immerse yourself in a culture, you can educate yourself about the rituals and traditions.  Doing so helps you connect and understand other walks of life.  An American activist who displays this attribute is Adoniram Judson.  This man spent his life immersing himself into the Burmese/Indian culture and came to know and understand this culture.  “I am not tired of my work, neither am I tired of the world; yet, when Christ calls me home, I shall go with gladness.” This is a quote by him referring to how the world is vast and how you should explore and learn about it.  That is part of understanding.  Once we understand, opportunities and open friendships are made.  

     Most people think, “Oh, I can’t help, I’m not smart enough, or my ideas are not monumental enough!” The truth is the smallest action make the biggest difference.  Many times children are the ones thinking these things because they do not have resources or ability.  However, some ways we can help are simple.  For example, you can promote a Peace Day or Cultural Day at your school.  Another thing you can do is honor a heritage weekly.  On the morning announcements share a quote of a famous activist of that ethnicity.  There are many simple and easy things you can do to promote that heritage and help the community at the same time.

     As a community, we can LOVE.  We can embrace each other’s differences instead of pushing them away.  Laugh, share, and learn together.  All we need to do is LISTEN, understand, and ignore stereotypes.  These things seem hard to do, but really, we just need to be open minded.  A close-minded approach leads to judgmental stereotypes and outlooks.  To change the status quo, to change the world, we do not need be an inspiring activist with a monumental following.  Rather we need to show KINDNESS to all no matter their background

     Our country needs to FORGIVE, but we cannot forget.  Our past is not something to hide from but to learn from.  We need to take our mistakes and apply their lessons to change how we act.  For example, consider the segregation of different races.  From that, we need to learn to respect all races and listen to what others have to say.  History is our tool and we need to use it to become a better nation.  If we could forgive all people for the wrongs they have done against us, this would become a united and trusting country.  

     Love, Understand, Learn, Listen, Kindness, and Forgiveness are all little things WE can do to unite this nation.  We have the power; we just need to find the strength.  By changing how we do things just in one school, or one church we could change the way we act as a community, then as a country, and finally as people altogether. If we experience different cultures and traditions, we can look into and understand the culture.  If we are open minded we can listen, learn, and forgive.  A simple change of mindset or a decision to be a better person can influence the way we live and the way we think as a nation.  If we set a goal as a united nation to become a more peaceful and safe place, we can do it.  We can only do it through love, understanding, learning, listening, kindness, and forgiveness.  As Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “Do small things with great love.”   

Honorable Mentions:

Evans Chun, gr. 8, Longfellow M.S., Fairfax Virginia

The Harmonious and United World

     A superhero flying across the sky. A mad scientist who could find a cure for cancer. A professional flutist. These were all dreams that I had as a child. I thought that the world was centered around me. However, my parents thought otherwise. For the longest time, my parents tried to make me understand the hardships and difficulties that other families have gone through. But as a somewhat comfortably living child who went to a private school, I never exactly understood what the terms food banks and poverty meant. In fact, I would say that the most of my fellow students didn’t understood what they meant as well. However, my view of the world has changed dramatically since I was in my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Lim’s, class.

     One October morning, as we all sat down to hear her story of the day, she told us this. “Today, I want to tell you a story, a personal story. A story about my life.” Immediately my fellow classmates and I became as quiet as mice. Her story began with her life as a child. She was like us in a way that she was a child with big hopes and dreams. However, like most roller coasters do, her life took a plunge, as the Cambodian Civil War erupted in the 60s. Luckily, despite her family having little money, her uncle paid for her family to fly over to the United States. This was when she noticed, that she doesn’t have a genie that will grant her every wish. She found that to succeed, she had to work and study harder than most students. After a few years later, she got into UVA, and during her stay, she was exposed to the multicultural environment and much appreciated the diversity it provided. She also met many students who came from similar backgrounds like hers but from different countries. She then started teaching at this school to help students learn the power of multiculturalism.

            When she finished her story, we were all dead silent. Some of the girls in the back were even crying! Ms. Lim told us that having gone through such a hard time made her realize, the world is not a perfect place. When the class was over, she told us from now on,
     “I want you guys to embrace the different cultures of the world. As a class, we will research different communities, countries, and backgrounds in an effort to understand and respect people with different backgrounds, beliefs, and heritages”.

     The next day, she taught us about her culture and her language, Khmer. She first started with teaching us “Hello”, chomreabsuor. She then taught us that in this language respect can be shown with just one word, hello, and its gesture. In Khmer, she taught us that depending on how high our hands are when we clasp them together, shows the level of respect while you say “hello” with. I found this so intriguing and interesting, that I showed all my mom dad, brother, aunt, and even church pastor! After showing them, all of them were curious about the language. This was my first experience of sharing cultures with my family and people that I respected.

     At the end of the year, when we bid farewell, I remember almost all of us had tears in our eyes. Our magical journey of exploring different heritages and backgrounds influenced not just me, but my entire class to change our view of the world in a different way. Four years later, I wonder how I can help other children learn other heritages. After pondering this for a while, I realized a trait that would be able to help this quest to a new understanding of heritage.

     Susceptible. This word best describes young children of our generation. We can use the trait for the best by setting up culture fairs to show young children that races do not make people bad or good, but rather they expand our world into a new dimension. What I have done in my community was that I have participated in organizing our school’s annual “Heritage Night”. The event turned out to be very special and amazing because many students were eager to participate and learn about other cultures. We did our best to show different kinds of heritages by setting up cultural foods like kimchi, and performances, like Wushu, a Chinese Martial Art. We invited many students from different elementary schools and introduced these new cultures to their young mind.

     As a country built on immigrants, it is only natural that we are expected to respect all these “ingredients” that make America the melting pot of immigrants. Most famous foods come with a recipe that acknowledges every ingredient that was used to make this final product. Likewise, we can apply the same logic with America. Since we are a melting pot of immigrants, we should recognize and value all the people that make America one nation with many people. The cultural difference among immigrants doesn’t mean that we have to be in constant conflict with one another. Rather, we should appreciate the difference with respect and learn to accept peacefully.

     I now have new dreams. Yes, I still do want to be a scientist who can find a cure for cancer. But also, I have a dream to explore different heritages and nations by traveling different countries as many as possible. I want to write about my traveling experience of other cultures and share them with other people by publishing it someday. I also want to help making some type of national holidays where everybody celebrates their own traditions and neighbors learn new cultures and heritages. Just imagine, people with different cultures wearing their traditional clothes, singing and humming their songs with happy faces, and sharing their foods and games with their neighbors. We will definitely be one step closer to more harmonious and united world.

Adelina Doyle, gr. 7, Moody M.S., Henrico VA 

            America, the most diverse nation known to man, full of various races, beliefs, and backgrounds. People came from everywhere to create a better life for themselves and their family. Because of this, our country has acted as a giant melting pot for everyone to slowly simmer together and become fully equal. Unfortunately, sometimes were are not all treated with the same respect. Sometime in our life, we, or our friends might run into misjudgment regarding race, religion, and backgrounds, but if we become more excepting as people we can try to avoid inequality, and learn from others of different heritages.

            I recently was speaking to a good friend of mine about the subject of boys. More specifically, her liking a boy of a different race. My friend was not bothered by her crushes background, but he on the other hand, believed that their different races were a divide that restrained him from ever liking her. The truth is, some boys and girls do not see eye to eye when it comes to people of different races. We are typically more judgmental towards people of different beliefs, merely because we notice our differences before we notice our similarities. I was greatly upset to hear this remark about her race, and felt like she was unjustly being punished for her background. I think this real life experience highlights the fact that all races are not yet seen as equals. We as human beings are too quick to judge and create assumptions based on a person’s backgrounds. I think that the best way to build understanding among people of different backgrounds is to treat everyone the way you want to be treated. The truth is, we are all people. Despite the fact that we look different on the outside, we all have feelings, and we all matter. I think over the years our respect towards other races has definitely grown, but it obviously has not reached its full potential.

            We also assume that people of different races belong in certain cliques and groups. For example, people of Indian and Asian heritage are typically sectioned off into the group of all A’s students, and lack athletic abilities. White males are typically labeled as “dumb jocks,” and solely care about football and girls. White females are assumed to be obsessed with their clothes and overall looks. The list goes on and on. Even as we get closer to equality and understanding for everyone, we for some reason still hold on to these old stereotypes which separate us as a community and school.

            I am so blessed to be in a community with people from all races and beliefs. It allows me to become more open-minded and explore new cultures and religions. This amazing society that we have recently begun to develop in America can help us to look beyond differences that had once divided us. I have friends from many different races, and I don’t think of them as being a certain race, I only think of them as people. Just like me, just like everyone. I think if you are exposed to different types of people at a young age, you become used to being around them, and it becomes a natural thing rather than an awkward divide. Meeting people from different backgrounds can also open up new doors and experiences. So, when one of my fellow classmates invited me to attend his bar mitzvah I gladly accepted. I believed that it would be a great way to learn more about the Jewish religion and gain understanding of his beliefs. It was such a great experience to be a part of and I came to the realization that everyone’s religion and beliefs are held close to their hearts and mean a lot to them, no matter what they may be. Even though I believed in a different religion, I was able to respect his religion, and the religion of others, in a way I never had before.


            The way to build understanding towards others of different backgrounds, is to treat them as equals and put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand what it’s like to be them, and to live their life. We need to realize that we are all people, and that we all deserve the same respect. We may have different beliefs, but we need to understand that they are all important. I am extremely grateful to be living in such an amazing country full of so many races and beliefs, which will continue to influenced me throughout my life.

Fatimah Durrani, , gr. 6, Al Fatih Academy

Peace Essay

     Diversity, as defined in Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “being composed of differing elements.” In the real world, these elements can be a variety of things: race, ethnicity, background, and religion. However, instead of using these differences to build a strong, diverse community, some people use them to discriminate against others. Every day, people around the world are grouped and labeled, whether it’s because of their religion or the color of their skin. These groups have bad annotations and lead to stereotypes; a big issue in the society we live in today. This is not an unsolvable problem, however. If we work together as schools, as communities, and as one human race, we can get rid of discrimination and celebrate our differences instead. To accomplish this, we need to stand up to the discrimination,  create awareness for the issues, and find solutions by starting small.  

     In one recent study, up to twenty-five percent of children reported being bullied by other kids in their school at least once during the past month, saying that they were depressed because of this. People are bullied because of the color of their skin, their physical features, or even their religion. We need to stand up to this inhumane treatment and stop bullying because everyone is equal and we should all be treated the same. When you see someone being bullied anywhere, stand up for them right then and there. Don’t ignore it and try to get help because it could get worse. Instead, you should help the victim. It’s important to stop people from getting bullied because bullying nowadays takes a huge toll on a student’s life. Seven percent of the people who were interviewed in high schools said that they were depressed by bullying and felt suicidal. No one should take their life because of someone saying that they’re not important. No one is perfect, and we all should know that. Everyone is unique in their ways, and we shouldn’t be judged because of that. Every culture, every race, and every religion all have different beliefs and customs which should be respected. After all, that’s what makes the Earth great.

     Creating awareness for important issues has helped the world in many times in the past. An example of this is that in 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger on a city bus in Alabama. This small act of resistance started the Montgomery bus boycott, an eleven-month struggle to desegregate the city’s buses. Another example is Dr. Martin Luther King, an activist and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. He was a non-violent activist who stood up for black rights. These activists made a change by starting small, and then slowly spreading the word. They gave speeches, got interviewed, boycotted, protested, and went to jail. They risked everything to help blacks earn their rights. This proves that we can stand up and make a change too. “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right” (Rosa Parks).

     Every activist became successful by starting small. Whether it was raising money through fundraisers, spreading the world by doing speeches, picking up trash when you see it, or other small yet important feats. But eventually, the word spreads and gets written in the newspapers or reaches the government. Then you go big by boycotting and protesting with a lot of people who stand up to discrimination and share your positive views. Even if that’s too big for you, you can start off at your school. My school, Al Fatih Academy, has held many fundraisers, food drives, and other group efforts before to help those in need. Or you can start off in your community, hand out flyers and give speeches. Nothing is impossible when you put your mind to it. You can change the world so easily, but it always starts off small.

     As I stated before, our diversity should be celebrated, and not be used as a means to spread hate. If we want to get rid of discrimination in our schools, communities, and even in the bigger picture, we must stand up to the problem as individuals, draw attention to these problems, and create the spark of equality, which will grow into a wildfire and spread across the globe. Although this is no easy task, we can accomplish it by working hard and taking the lead. You will face challenges, but remember that to achieve her goals, Rosa Parks was arrested. Malcolm X was beaten. Martin Luther King was arrested. That didn’t stop them, though. They came back, filled with determination and confidence, and helped spread the wildfire. If you join us, all of us, and help us spark that little flame that will grow and grow, we can get rid of the thorn in the world’s side.

Brennan Lane, gr. 6, Midlothian M.S., Chesterfield VA

Faith and Peace

     The last weekend in July is always reserved for the Major family reunion. Each year, a different family hosts hundreds of my relatives that join together to mingle, eat barbecue, play horseshoes, fight over the rules of the egg toss, and remember my great- grandparents who are the Adam and Eve of the crowd. Actually, they are the Arthur and Mary Major of the crowd. My great-grandmother, Mary Walsh, a devout Irish Catholic, dared to marry the rascal Irish Protestant, Arthur Major, much to the horror of their respective parents. According to what is repeated every reunion, it was not only the families of my great-grandparents who were mad about this so called mixed marriage, but the communities of Irish ancestry in which they lived were also shocked and dismayed. Apparently, my great-grandfather was even completely disowned by his family who refused to even meet my great-grandfather’s children because of the religious divide. They certainly had a lot of children, too. In fact, they had eleven children that lived to adulthood. All had been sworn to commit to a yearly gathering of the clan to celebrate a couple that started out in such a hard place.

     Today, the group includes doctors, lawyers, scientists, athletes, carpenters, farmers, teachers, and every trade under the sun, including those who coal mine, which was the occupation of Arthur Major. My grandmother tells stories about my great-grandfather’s health problems due to endless days in the pitch black underground. She tells about the poverty of her family as she looks back in time, and the incredible prejudice of those who married outside of his or her religion. I recently heard a new song by pop singer Ed Sheeran written about the marriage of his Protestant grandfather and Catholic grandmother called “Nancy Mulligan.” It reminds me of the stories that I’ve heard about my great-grandparents. My favorite lines read:

     She and I went on the run

     Don’t care about religion

     I’m gonna marry the woman I love

     Down by the Wexford border.

            In the 21st century, it may seem strange to think of religion getting in the way of two people of the same basic culture getting married. Many immigrants hoped that America would solve the problems of persecution. To quote Lady Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” because there is a lot of religious prejudice in the world, and America was supposed to be the place to be free of that prejudice. As I have learned in my History classes, unfortunately, the history of the world is the story of mankind fighting over whose God is better.

            For one thing, between 1095 and about 1300 A.D., the Crusades showed just how ungodly people could be to each other. Further, the Crusades’ end did not end religious intolerance. In fact, the drive for religious freedom in a world of cruelty over faith was a major lure to settle in America. According to my textbook, The American Nation, the Pilgrims, French Huguenots, Puritans and others came to America searching for freedom of worship. Unfortunately, the shining “City Upon a Hill” that was supposed to stand for an area of tolerance for people like the Puritans who had been persecuted, only meant tolerance for Puritan beliefs. Others who questioned the strict Puritan teachings, like Roger Williams or Anne Hutchinson were drummed out and banned from the settlements.

            With these and other similar examples of intolerance, it is no wonder that in order to encourage peace, a special protection was carved out for freedom of worship when our Founding Fathers drafted the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. In fact, freedom of religion is so important that it is listed as the very first freedom in the First Amendment, even ahead of free speech. Today in the 21st century we still need to be reminded of that crucial freedom because although we are a nation of immigrants, Americans are still wary of religions that are not as familiar to the general public. This is especially seen in people’s fears of the religion of Islam.

            Whether or not it was meant to be a travel ban against Muslims, the recent attempt to limit entry of immigrants from certain Muslim countries made America seem not so interested in taking in “huddled masses” if they happened to be Muslim. The problem, to me, seems to be the lack of listening to each other. Maybe if we learn more about each other, we might avoid age old problems and live in the true spirit of why America was founded.

            On a gray, rainy day this past February, I found myself rushing into Reynolds Community College to meet up with my friend and classmate who invited me to a talk about living as a Muslim in America. I was just so curious about this religion that made so many so afraid. During the “Conversation about Faith & Culture” my friend sat beside me and I started to listen. The speakers were eye opening. They talked about the hardships they had as Muslims dealing with an American culture that did not always give them a chance because they might wear a hijab or have emigrated from a traditionally Muslim country. Person after person spoke about misinformed comments that they are faced with every day. It made me feel guilty and sad that the speakers had to experience these ignorant remarks. I wondered if my friend had heard these hurtful comments directed at him as well. I left with feeling that I had learned about a faith, but more importantly, I learned the hardships of prejudice.

            We can learn religious tolerance from each other, but it begins with really listening. It begins with sharing and talking with each other. It begins with visiting interfaith events like the one I attended. And because of this conference, I found myself a little closer to understanding what my great-grandparents must have experienced nearly a century ago.


Magnolia Matzen, gr. 6, Matoaca M.S., Chesterfield VA

In a world of black and white are you colorblind?

            ¨Peace can not be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding.¨ – Albert Einstein. 

            Over time people have written about peace and talked about peace, but now nobody is doing anything.  On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks refused to move for a white man on the bus.  At the time women had barely any rights especially if they were of a different race that isn’t common to the US.  Over time other women started fighting for their rights.  Now a woman can do anything she wants.  She can be a teacher or a doctor.  People of other races are allowed to find a job and live free in the US.  Now there are laws and travel bans in our country not allowing certain people in the United States just because they are different.  In some parts of Russia if you are in love with somebody of the same gender you can be sent to a concentration camp, just because they don’t believe in the same things as everyone else.  I myself am a different religion than some of my friends.  Even though I don’t believe in the same things as my friends Kaylynn or Kaeli doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.  So many people have risked their lives just so they could be treated like everyone else, but even though legally everyone is the same some people still don’t treat them as equals.

            ¨Peace begins with a smile.¨ – Mother Teresa. 

            If people were more educated about other people’s beliefs and religions everything would be better understood and people would cause less pain to each other.  If people could look past what people look like on the outside and what people believe on the inside everyone could be friends again.  My friend’s cousin went out of country to fight in a war.  He never came back.  Maybe if people could understand each other and learn how to get along he wouldn’t have missed her graduation or family game night.  If people looked past their differences then the world would be a better place.  I feel if there was something or someone that could take people to other countries or take people to an other religions church so you could get the knowledge and experience everyone else has and realise being different could be a good thing the whole world would have peace once more.

            ¨It´s not the load that brings you down, but the way you carry it.¨ – CS Lewis.

            Have you ever heard someone say ¨great minds think alike?¨  While even if someone else is different they can still have a great mind that thinks like everyone else.  With all the war and tragedies people would finally realize how to resolve it.  No one has.  People need to listen and understand.  Throughout this essay I have talked about how people are different and need to come together and with this I leave you to wonder… In a world of tragedies and heartbreak are you doing your part, are you being the glue that hold the world together, if not find the goodness inside of you and think about how people are dying and how people are in pain and struggling and ask is this what I want everyone’s future to be like.


Lauren Richards, gr. 8, Homeschooled, Richmond VA

Many People . . . One Nation: Creating Harmony out of Dissonance

     The United States of America is a land of immigrants, settled by people who came to this country looking for freedom of religion, tyranny, and to pursue their own happiness for themselves and their family. In her poem, “The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus reminds us how America opened its doors to the “wretched refuse” of the world promising a brighter future for the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This nation has become home to millions of immigrants. My family, like my country, is made up of people from different ethnic and economic backgrounds with differing ideas and beliefs. While these differences make America more beautiful, they also create misunderstandings, prejudices, and conflicts. Like a family, a nation is the home of individuals; humans. Humanity is a phenomenon that is constantly in and out of harmony with itself. As individuals, we can bring an end to discord by creating an environment of respect and understanding, simply by talking and listening to one another. If we do this, we can help bring peace to our homes, communities, and nation.

     Although the founding principles of our nation are equality for all, this has not always been the case. The United States may be the land of liberty, but it is also a land of mistakes. Slavery, the treatment of the American Indians, and the Jim Crow laws are just a few examples of how the United States has strayed from the nation’s founding principles. But this is also a land of do-overs.   A land where the nation and its people have overcome these blights on humanity and tried to make things right. The Civil Rights movement is a good example of how people working together can correct the wrongdoings of a nation. People who learn from their mistakes are healthier and happier, and thus a nation that learns from its mistakes creates a more harmonious community for everyone. The Civil Rights movement led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and corrected centuries of wrongs to a large segment of the population.

     Change starts with people. Maggie Walker is an example of an individual who overcame prejudice and gender inequality, and succeeded. Although she was a woman in a male-dominated world, an African American in a segregated state, and struggled with physical disabilities, Mrs. Walker became a successful teacher, business owner, and the first woman to charter a bank in the United States. She is an example to us all because she overcame many obstacles and helped people in her community, creating harmony out of dissonance.  

     This nation took root on the banks of the James River. It is said that peace is like a river. Like a river, peace never goes in a straight line. It curves around obstacles and changes speed. It flows over rapids, just like the James River as it runs through downtown Richmond. Peace, like a river, encounters many obstacles, gets polluted, and can diminish to a trickle. Just like the survival of many communities around the world depends on the flow of a river, peace depends on the people in the community. Some people are quick to satisfy their own needs and wants to the detriment of others and bypass peace like a bridge crosses a river. Others block peace like a damn and deny equality to members of the community. Water brought immigrants to this country and, for many, led them to a more peaceful and prosperous life. The Richmond community, like the James River, can bring peace to our city, state, and nation. All it takes is for everyone to respect and appreciate the unique differences of each individual that, combined, make up our community.

     We can build understanding and respect for one another by starting with the family unit. Respect needs to start in the family by talking openly with one another and being honest. If someone in the family is upset, the others need to find the reason why they are upset before jumping to conclusions. It is also important to give each member of the family room and space to be themselves. This space helps us to be better and stronger as an individual and as a family. Any differences and challenges in the family are an opportunity to show respect and learn from one another.

     This scenario can also be used when talking about a community. It is important for a community to respect one another. Today, we are so busy with our jobs, school, and occupied by technology that it is hard to be neighborly. We need to take a break and remember what it means to be a good neighbor. I think that we need to do this with many people. Not just in our neighborhoods but in our schools and our community. Sometimes people just need to talk and be heard. Listing to someone is a way of showing that person respect, no matter their heritage or background.

     Politics, religion, race, culture, nationality—none of these should stop us from listening and talking with one another. We do not have to agree with one another. We just need to listen, respectfully. Differences of opinion do not make us different, they make us individuals. When we listen to one another, we understand each other better, no matter our differences. Talking and listening to one another is a simple solution to a complex problem. But sometimes the simplest solutions are the most effective.

     I am the daughter of an Australian immigrant descended from convicts. I am also the daughter of a distant relative of John Adams, a founding father of the United States of America. I am proud of my heritage, just as my friends who are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheists, African American, Asian, and European are proud of their heritage. I believe peace in this country, and the world, starts with a conversation. An open, honest conversation where we respect one another and embrace our differences; a conversation of different voices in harmony.