WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced Amari Edmonds and Tyler Willis were selected as the District of Columbia winners for the “Do the Write Thing” Challenge, a national anti-violence essay contest. Both winners are eighth grade students from D.C. Prep Benning Middle School, a charter school in Ward 7. This year marks the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) fourth year sponsoring the contest in D.C., which offers young people a platform to speak out about violence and make recommendations about how to stop it. Over 240 District middle schoolers submitted essays to OAG. On Friday, June 5, OAG will honor the winners and other essayists in a public virtual celebration (register at oag.dc.gov/DTWTCeremony).
“These essays paint a sobering contrast: the pain and trauma violence inflicts on our youth and the strength and tenacity of this generation to put an end to it,” said AG Racine. “Congratulations to Amari and Tyler and all District students who wrote such impactful essays and thank you to all parents and school officials for encouraging your children and students to participate. Now more than ever, as our nation grapples with important questions about our future, it is critical that we listen to young people.”
“Do the Write Thing” Challenge
The “Do the Write Thing” Challenge is a national essay contest that gives middle school students the chance to speak out about how violence affects their lives and share their ideas about what must be done to stop it. The contest is an initiative of the National Campaign to Stop Violence, a non-profit comprised of community, business, and governmental leaders who have come together to reduce youth violence across the country.
OAG has been the District’s local sponsor for the program since 2016, marking this year as the 4-year anniversary. Over 240 students from 13 schools submitted essays this year, a 30 percent increase from 2019. D.C. Prep Benning had nearly 100 essayists, the largest of any participating school. Charles Hart Middle School, a D.C. Public School of Ward 8, had nearly 40 essayists, the second largest of any participating school. Other participating schools include: Sousa Middle School, Ida B. Wells Middle School, Brookland Middle School, Excel Academy, Paul Public Charter School, Columbia Heights Educational Campus, Howard University Middle School, Jefferson Middle School Academy, KIPP D.C. Will Academy, KIPP D.C. Valor Academy, and Kingsman Academy.
“We are inspired by the leadership demonstrated by all of the students who participated in the ‘Do the Write Thing’ Challenge – the vision they have for a better future gives us hope that more is possible for our children and community,” said Laura Maestas, Chief Executive Officer of D.C. Prep. “We are particularly proud of Tyler Willis and Amari Edmonds, who write with intelligence, eloquence, and passion about the urgency of ending gun violence. Their voices are essential on this important health and safety issue.”
“When I asked my students to participate in the ‘Do the Write Thing’ Challenge, it was not to win an award or for the accolades,” said Donsha Watkins, social studies teacher a D.C. Prep Benning Middle School. “It was to allow them to utilize their voice in a society that so often tries to silence them. It was to give them a chance to speak upon the adverse effects of gun violence that plagues our communities daily. I am beyond proud of all the participants. The power to write and create your own narratives is a step closer to liberation. Congratulations!”
Amari Edmonds wrote a powerful and personal essay about the impact of losing both her father and her friend to gun violence. She writes about the impact violence has had on her personally and on the District, and suggests that to break cycles of violence, we need to do more to support and educate black children. Amari writes:
“All my life I’ve been taught to hold the ones I love close to me because they can be here today and gone tomorrow. I’ve grown up with children and saw them one day and found out they were dead the next. Gun violence is snatching my friends and family from me left and right.”
A copy of Amari’s essay is at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Amari-Edmonds-DTWT-Winning-Essay.pdf
Tyler Willis submitted his creative and compelling essay in the form of a poem. His family and neighbors have been victims to gun violence. Throughout his poem he references the divergent paths a young life can take without a support system and the power of song as a metaphor for healing and strength.
“Throughout history / Throughout time / We had a song / Through it all / We made ourselves heard / We sing for freedom / We sing for equality / We would sing / To get through / And we did.
But when we become stronger / When we remember the song / That's when the violence stops / When we give that child a chance / When we stand up for the weak / When we stop killing each other / We can start healing the pain.”
A copy of Tyler’s poem is at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Tyler-Willis-DTWT-Winning-Essay.pdf
RSVP for the Virtual Recognition Ceremony: OAG is hosting a public virtual ceremony for students who participated in this year’s contest on Friday, June 5 at 11:00am ET. Register at oag.dc.gov/DTWTCeremony. During the ceremony, OAG will hear from the top four finalists, and host panel discussions with students, advocates and government leaders.
Excerpts from other essayists are available here: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/DTWT-Challenge-Student-Essay-Excerpts.pdf
AG Racine is committed to data-driven solutions that enhance public safety in the District. Learn more about OAG’s public safety efforts, including restorative justice and Cure the Streets, and get information about DC’s Red Flag Law to remove firearms and ammunition from people who might be a danger to themselves or others: oag.dc.gov/public-safety/dcs-red-flag-law-removing-guns-potentially.