Contest challenges young minds

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Williford Elementary School fifth-grader Anthony Jones, 11, right, reads his essay about Denzel Washington on Tuesday during an assembly for the three winners of the Black History Essay and Oratorical Contest at the school. Fifth-graders Naqi'yah Lee-Williams, 10, left, and Maijah Mercer, 11, second from left, also placed first with their essays on Patricia Bath and Michelle Obama, respectively. Also seated is Kevin Jones, president and founder of the BAC Scholarship Fund.


Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Kevin Jones is a product of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools who has made a concerted effort to give back in the Twin Counties.

Jones, who is a graduate of Nash Central High School, is the president and founder of the Bulldog Alumni Community Scholarship Fund, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that awards scholarship money to local high school graduates.

In an attempt to showcase the minds of the younger students in Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, Jones, who attended Williford Elementary School, got with his old school to put together a five-week black history essay contest for fifth-grade students at Williford Elementary School.

With nearly 50 essays submitted, the top three winners who were chosen by a review board of the BAC Scholarship Fund read their essays in front of their peers and teachers Tuesday at the school as part of the BAC Scholarship Fund’s 2018 Black History Essay and Oratorical Contest.

Anthony Jones, 11, wrote his essay about award-winning actor Denzel Washington, while Maijah Mercer, 11, wrote about the first African-American first lady Michelle Obama. Naqiyah Lee-Williams, 10, wrote her essay on Patricia Bath, who was the first African-American to complete a residency in opthalmology. Bath also invented the Laserphaco Probe for cataract eye treatment in 1986.

The three students each received a $40 check from Jones for their winning essays. Jones said the purpose of the contest was for the students to learn more about black history and improve their reading and literacy skills. 

“Not often enough do we celebrate our kids for their ability to read and write well,” he said. “You have to be able to write well to make a way forward, so I really think we accomplished that because too often being able to write well doesn’t seem as cool. Also, it was good to let the kids see their peers up on stage practicing public speaking, which is an art that most adults haven’t come close to mastering.”

Williford Elementary School Principal Kendrick Alston said the connection with reading and writing is something all Nash-Rocky Mount schools are placing more emphasis on in making sure children not just understand the structure of writing but how to convey information through writing.

He added in many cases, students like to copy and paste what they see on the Internet, but it is important in writing essays that they read, decipher and write in their own words what they gathered in their research. Jones said what impressed him the most was the depth in which the essays were written.

“Research-based writing is something they’re going to be required to do and expected to do in middle school —  not to say it isn’t being done already,” Jones said. “But anytime we are able to give them another assignment dealing with research-based writing is very important and will prepare them to compete in middle school, high school and the professional world.”

Jones said many of the essays centered on more current black figures like Lebron James, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Jay-Z. 

“The civil right heroes of more than a half a century ago were very important to the culture and to the development of American life for minorities,” Jones said. “But that was two generations ago, and it’s very hard for fifth-graders to draw connections to people like (the Rev.) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There are a lot of modern-day people that many covered in these essays that follow the same lines in terms of breaking barriers, setting new standards and pushing the envelope for equality and acceptance.”