United Way MV and NAACP Utica announce Black History Essay Contest Winner

This year, we partnered with the NAACP Utica branch to organize a Black History Month children’s book giveaway and essay contest. This partnership focused on celebrating black history and the black community.

Up to five winners were chosen to receive four books, which are all around the 3-6 grade reading level, that focused on the importance of black history. Contestants then had the opportunity to write a reflection essay on one of the four books to win a $100 Amazon gift card!

The following books were given away to winners: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodsen; Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Little Leaders: Exceptional Men in Black History, both written by Vashti Harrison; and Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine. 

The first contestant vying for the Amazon gift card was actually a combined effort of a 3rd/4th grade special education class at the Herkimer BOCES, led by their teacher, Ms. Anglin. Students read the book The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodsen, and answered the essay question of “What audience would you recommend read this book and why?” Their essay response is the following: 

“We read the book The Day You Began by Jacqueline Woodsen and illustrated by Rafeal Lopez. This book is about feeling different. The main characters in the story were Angelina and Rigoberto. The parts we liked best were the illustrations. We think that a new student would like this story. We think that they will like it because it could make them feel comfortable.”

The second entry was Amila Grabovica from Utica. She read Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison and answered the question of “If you had the chance to meet someone from the text, what questions would you ask them or like to know about them and why?” Her essay response is the following: 

“If I had the chance to meet someone from the text Little Leaders Bold Woman in Black History, I would like to meet a ballerina named Raven Wilkinson. I would love to meet Raven Wilkinson because I am a ballerina as well, and I would love to ask many questions. I would ask Raven Wilkinson five questions. The first question I would ask is, what inspired you to never give up? I have wanted to give up sometimes but I kept on trying. The second question is what was it like to be the first full-time African American Ballerina? Third question is how many classes would you take every week? I take six classes every week. Fourth question is how did you handle all of the bullying for being a different skin tone then everyone else? If I got bullied I would be very mad and insecure. Last but not least, how did you discover that dance was your true passion? These are all of the questions I would ask if I got to meet Raven Wilkson.”

We are thrilled to announce that the winner of the essay contact and $100 Amazon gift card is Ayanna Evens, of Utica! Ayanna read The Day You Begin and answered the essay question of  “Choose someone from the text. How can you relate to them? What did you see in them that you might see in yourself? Can you explain a time that you felt like one of the individuals in the book?” Her essay is the following:

“I read the book The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodsen. I couldn’t pick just one character in the story to relate to because I related to each one. They felt scared, nervous, and shy. A time I felt like these same feelings is when I started soccer. I’ve always wanted to play soccer and my parents finally signed me up in January. On my first day, I was very nervous because I was the only kid of color and the other kids were really good at playing. The other kids had really good skills and techniques because they had been playing for a few years. I told my mom I don't think I’m ready because the kids were way better than me and I knew nothing. The girls there were already friends. My mom told me to just be myself and those kids weren’t great at playing soccer in just one practice. She was right. Everyone has to practice and learn something before being great at it. I didn’t have friends at school right away either. After a few practices, I felt better and my teammates were very nice. They were helping me with dribbling, passing, toe touches, and kicking. I even made a friend and she invited me to her house. Now I show my older sister some soccer moves!”

These students displayed important lessons that were learned from reading these books. It was amazing to see the students were able to learn different lessons from the books. Congrats to all of the winners of the book pack and to Ayanna, our winner of the essay contest and $100 Amazon gift card! 

Watch the announcement video here.