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Memphis Children Pencil for Peace in National Essay Competition

In 2023, Memphis’ crime rate skyrocketed to 312.5% above the national average. The University of Memphis’ Criminal Justice Student Organization is calling for change after partnering with the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office and Do The Write Thing to host an essay writing competition. 

On Thursday, Feb. 8, students from various middle schools throughout the Memphis area came to the University of Memphis to participate in the national Do The Write Thing essay competition. A few of the schools that participated include Memphis Business Academy, Ridgeway Middle School, Colonial Middle School and A. Maceo Walker Middle School.

Do The Write Thing is an organization that, while partnered with the national initiative to stop violence, hosts an annual essay writing contest for middle school students throughout the United States. On top of the competition, the organization also hosts various community service projects for the youth to remain engaged in their community.

The organization was founded with help from the Kuwait-America Foundation, which sought to find ways to reduce general violence while also learning stories from children and their experiences with violence.

“They are writing submissions about what violence means to them and how it affects their lives [and] how the current media affects that,” said Emily Moya, vice president of the Criminal Justice Student Organization at the University of Memphis.

Do The Write Thing hosts many of these competitions throughout the continental United States. Every regional winner is selected to represent their city/state at the annual youth conference against violence in Washington, DC. 

“The essays are graded based off of responsiveness, content and originality. Out of the 449 entries this year [from Memphis alone], two will go on a trip to Washington to represent our city,” said Mark Williams, assistant professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Memphis.

“[Do not] be afraid to be vulnerable on your page. All of the submissions that we read are completely anonymous. We [do not] know what school they come from or anything like that,” Moya said.

Nikima Robertson, last year’s essay contest winner from Shelby County, has used her story to promote a cry for change and a call for the end of violence and systemic racism. 

“It’s just honestly really sad,” said Robertson. “This is our city. We should treat it with respect and better. We shouldn’t hurt our own people.” 

As the program continues to gain momentum in the Mid-South area, facilitators and community leaders remain hopeful that it will inspire lasting change in the fight against youth violence in our streets.

“It’s really cool that we get to have a positive effect on our younger kids in the community,” said Moya. “I really love getting to know these students in a different way than how we learn about them in the media, plus seeing their perspective on their community in this day and age.”

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