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Mar 2005 / young minds :: email this story to a friend

Object Lessons
By Emily Schaefer and Nicole Williams

The following essays won first place in Ferguson Middle School's Black History Month Essay Contest. Seventh and eighth grade winners were presented with their awards at the Black History Month assemblies on Friday, February 25, at Ferguson Middle School. Each first place winner was given a check for $150.00 generously donated by the Ferguson Lion's Club. In addition to other prizes donated by the Ferguson Shop'n Save, Queen's Chop Suey, and Sportsprint, both first place winners will be taken to lunch in a limousine thanks to White-Mullen Mortuary.

Students were asked to choose an African-American leader and explain that leader's beliefs and accomplishments, how those beliefs and accomplishments influence the student, and how those beliefs and accomplishments might influence the school, community or the world.

Emily Schaefer, eighth grade student, wrote the following about artist Elizabeth Catlett.

"Mother and Child," by Elizabeth Catlett "When you find the one thing you love, nothing could possibly stand in your way — not ability, not education, and definitely not something as pointless as the color of your skin. Elizabeth Catlett was an artist of amazing talent and technique. She created numerous sculptures and prints that would soon make her recognized as an amazing black artist.

Long before she began creating such art, however, she wanted to go to the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Unfortunately, she wouldn't live that dream because of the simple fact that she was African-American. Although we don't deal with that anymore today, it was an extremely common excuse for rejection at the time. She wouldn't let that keep her down for long. Instead, she enrolled at Howard University. There she studied design, printmaking, and drawing, which eventually led to her becoming the amazing artist she was. At the University of Iowa in 1940, Elizabeth became the first student to get a Master's Degree of Fine Arts in sculpture. Little did she know that soon to come, she would become famous for the art she may never have considered a few years ago.

Her perseverance and determination has influenced me in numerous ways. It just shows that you'll find your passion one day and whether or not you knew it all along or you found it by accident, that you shouldn't let anyone else's opinions bring you down. After all, Elizabeth Catlett made art that she approved of with no worry about any negative opinions of others. She is definitely a wonderful role model representing that you should never give up on the one thing you love.

If the world didn't give up on their dreams, there would be less poor people who decided that there is no point to living life. There would be less depressed teenagers who feel like they are completely worthless and untalented. And then more and more adults would realize that this world is a better and more acceptable place. Almost all pessimism would be extinguished and the world would be another step towards perfect.

Elizabeth Catlett, like many others before her and after her, had a dream — a dream that she would let no ignorant man or racist throw away. If only we all could work as hard to realize how fortunate we really are and make our dream come true, this world would become a better place."

Nicole Williams, seventh grade student, wrote the following about Ruby Bridges.

Ruby Bridges "In 1960, one little six-year-old girl helped change integration in schools in the South. She is an important part of how our schools came to allow many different races to learn together, and accept one another. Many people wanted to change this because they believed that it was unfair that African-American children could not get the same education as a Caucasian child no matter how intelligent the child was, but that was about to change.

In the spring of 1960, many African-American kindergartners took a test to see who would go to an integrated school in September. That summer Ruby's parents found out she had passed the test and was chosen to go to William Franz Public School. Her mother was in favor of it. She believed it was time for people to respect her, her children, and all races no matter the skin color.

Ruby Bridges achieved one big goal in the year of 1960. She changed the New Orleans School District from having segregated schools to allowing many different children of many races, cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds to learn in the same school. At the time, she didn't have many strong beliefs since she was only six years old. But she did believe that it was not fair that she was treated so differently from other children because of her skin color. She did not understand how so many adults and children protested against her for being in the same school as the white children.

Ruby Bridges has influenced many people in many ways. One way she has influenced me is by helping me come to understand that even if people don't believe in you or are against you, if you believe in yourself then that makes all the difference. The reason I think this is that even though many people criticized and antagonized her, she just ignored them. Attending middle school and living in this generation, I find it hard to ignore people when they tease you. That's why I admire her. Even though so many people teased and taunted her, she just paid attention to the important stuff in life: friends, family, education, and having fun.

Ruby Bridges' huge achievement has also affected our community and even the world. Now, children and teens can learn together and embrace each others' differences. Now, you can walk into a school or other learning environment and see the faces of children and teens who are Latino, Indian, Asian, African-American, Caucasian, and many other races and cultures. Her change in the schools affected the world by influencing people to make other changes throughout their community. We can now share bathrooms and drinking fountains instead of having to be separated. You can now go to a public pool and find many different peoples there enjoying themselves. Her change has affected us in so many ways.

That is why Ruby Bridges was such an important person and still is today. She changed the way we look at others. We have now learned to embrace each others' differences and accept one another. And the result of her actions has resulted in what everyone wanted — for everyone to be treated equally."

Our thanks to Ferguson Middle School English teacher Jennifer Stephens for sharing the essays from this year's contest.

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