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This Year’s Winning Authors in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Contest

The winners and honorable mention recipients in the 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., essay contest for sixth graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Last evening, Diversity Partner Rodney Martin had the honor of presenting the winners of the firm’s 13th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., essay contest to the Grand Rapids Board of Education. The Grand Prize Winner, R’Mani Belcher, of Riverside Middle School, the First Runner Up, Alayne Anderson, of the Center for Economicology, and the Second Runner Up, Sha’Myah Dixon, also of Riverside Middle School, each read their winning essays at the meeting. In addition, Mr. Martin presented 23 students with certificates of honorable mention and gift cards to Schuler Books and Music.  The essay contest drew 342 essay submissions by students from 16 different schools in the Grand Rapids Public Schools Systems.  You can read the winner essays here.

 

R’mani Belcher, Riverside Middle School, Grand Prize Winner, Sha’Myah Dixon, Riverside Middle School, Second Runner-up, and Alayne Anderson, Center for Economicology, First Runner-up

Winners of the 2017-18 Martin Luther King, Jr., Essay Contest

To honor the legacy and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., each year Warner Norcross + Judd conducts an essay contest for sixth graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  Now in its 13th year, the contest drew 342 essay submissions – 28 more than last year – from 16 different schools. Essays were judged by more than 50 Warner Norcross attorneys and staff, using the Michigan Education Assessment Program guidelines for narrative writing. The essays were evaluated for ideas, organization, style and conventions.

This year’s winners are:
• R’mani Belcher, Riverside Middle School, Grand Prize
• Alayne Anderson, Center for Economicology, First Runner-up
• Sha’Myah Dixon, Riverside Middle School, Second Runner-up

Additionally, 23 students from eight different schools received honors mentions. They attend C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy, Center for Economicology, Grand Rapids Montessori, Grand Rapids Public Museum School, Harrison Park School, John Ball Zoo School, Riverside Middle School and Sherwood Park.

All winning and honorable mention students and their parents are invited to attend the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Program held Monday, Jan. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Fountain Street Church. Belcher will read her essay, and all others will be invited to stand for recognition.

Additionally, the grand prize winner and the two runners-up will be given an opportunity to read their essays at the Monday, Feb. 5 GRPS Board of Education meeting, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. Warner Norcross Diversity Partner Rodney Martin will be in attendance at both programs to introduce the winners.

Each winning and honorable mention student will receive a gift card to Schuler Books and Music and all others will receive a personalized certificate of participation.

The winning essays appear below:

GRAND PRIZE WINNER

R’mani Belcher

Riverside Middle School

Ms. Holt, teacher

“A Step of Faith”

Faith is taking the first step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

            Let me start out by saying that I’m not a very confident or positive kind of person. Almost the opposite! Dr. King, on the other hand, was confident and always saw his glass as half full. His positivity changed our lives for the better. This quote has motivated and inspired me to have a little more faith in myself and others.

To me this quote means that you have to have faith in anything you strongly believe in, even though you might not know what you have ahead of you. We need to keep our faith strong even when we don’t know the consequences of acting on it. There was a time when something like this happened to me.

A couple of years ago, I was walking to my bus stop and I overheard an older kid from our school bullying a girl that I’ve hadn’t seen before. At first I did nothing, and I just stood there. I listened to what the older kid was saying, and I was shocked and paralyzed. She was calling her ugly and stupid and a whole bunch of stuff just to put her down. I walked up closer. There was a crowd of kids cheering her on. The victim girl was in tears. No one stood up for her. There was a lot of cursing involved too. They had her in a corner now. I didn’t know what to do. I was just in a daze, watching, hoping that someone would help this girl. But no one did, not even me.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. Without thinking I shoved my way to the front of the crowd. My heart raced. My mouth opened, but nothing came out. Kids started yelling for me to get out of the way, but I didn’t move. Not like I could anyway; I was frozen with fear and no plan. I glanced at the picked on girl; she stopped crying. It felt like we looked into each other’s souls. The older kid pushed me, all of a sudden I calmly talked to her. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it must have been good because I do remember the look on the bully’s face! The whole crowd was in awe. I felt like such the bigger person! The older kid said something under her breath and left. Shortly the crowd of kids left too.

I looked into the girl’s eyes and she burst into tears. She tightly gave me a hug and I could feel the weights being lifted off her shoulders. I started to cry too. She whispered into my ear two words: “Thank you!”

I never did find out how the whole thing started, but I’ll never forget how it ended. That girl and I are still friends to this day! I never thought that I could do something so good or changing for ANYONE! Just like Dr. King, I’ve won a fight without using violence. And I thank myself for giving myself that step of faith.


 

FIRST RUNNER-UP

Alayne Anderson

Center For Economicology

Mrs. Phillips

            Life is an important thing, and God chose to give us life for a reason. Thus we all need to live life to the fullest. But how, how are we supposed to do this if we are not all truly accepted as equals. Our constitution, the United States constitution stated that all men were created “equal.” But if that is true why are people today still persecuted and ridiculed for believing in their own god?

Please, please tell me why the people of “power” can talk about other races as though they aren’t people of worth. No scratch that, please tell me why anyone can talk about other human beings like they are worthless. It’s not by any means right, people should always be treated equally, no matter their sexual orientation, race, religion, or who they love. It’s so important to accept people. Did you know that 5,000 LGBTQ youth now take their lives each year, and 500,000 attempt suicide? Those are repulsive statistics.

Do you want to know what I think? I think people are afraid of change and diversity. I think we are all just cowards, not just me and not just you, but everyone. I suppose the reason for this is because you have to get rid of your old ideas or opinions and embrace new and unknown ones. Humans are stubborn, we stick to what we’re comfortable with.

            Look at yourself, right now. Embrace yourself. Now tell me, what color are you? Some of you may be black and some of you may be so white you sometimes feel transparent. Do you know what color I am? My color is human, that is the only color I could ever want to be. Labels are for clothes, not people. So what if you’re gay, so what if you’re straight, or black, or for god’s sake green. You are no less human than the person sitting next to you today. So I implore you to make a change in how you feel. I, a mere child cannot make you change. But if I did, then I know that I have made you a better person, and you have fulfilled god’s request to love all.


SECOND RUNNER-UP

Sha’Myah Dixon

Riverside Middle School

Miss Holt

“No More Silence”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

            There are different kinds of silence. Sometimes we should speak up and get what’s bothering us out. Other times we should speak up to keep people from doing bad things. What would happen to our world and lives if all of a sudden no one cared about anybody and let bad things happen without saying anything? I believe everyone’s lives would be miserable if they kept either silence. There would be no happiness; there would be nothing but sadness in the world.

            When I watch the news, I see a lot of terrible things that maybe could have been prevented if someone had spoken up. In Kalamazoo and other cities on the news, there’s been a lot of shooting. Most of that is because people don’t want to talk; they want to keep silent about what’s bothering them. They also keep silent even if they know some information that could stop someone from snapping and hurting other people. That’s why the government always says, “If you see something, say something.”

            Eleven years ago, in 2006, my father’s life became miserable because of his silence. That day my father went to jail. If he had spoken up and told the police who caused this whole thing, he wouldn’t be where he is now. Instead he got lied on and took the blame for everything.

That day I found out that I wouldn’t have a father to read bedtime stories to me, or be there to drive me to the bus corner when I was scared. I always wanted to go to a father/daughter dance with him, but I couldn’t because he wasn’t there. All those years ago I remained silent; I never told anyone how I felt.

            As Americans we need to learn about all the different kinds of silence. We need to find out if people need our help to work things out in their lives. If we don’t, we can’t stop the evilness from coming into this world. In other conditions, we need to speak up in order to right wrongs. Either way, there should be no more silence.

Warner Norcross & Judd Releases its 11th Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report

DAR2016-pg-1-graphic-thumbnail_1For the past 11 years, Warner Norcross & Judd has reported annually about its efforts to become a more diverse and inclusive organization.  The 2016 Report has just been issued and is available on the firm’s website, along with past reports, by clicking here.  The Report includes a letter from the firm’s Managing Partner, Doug Dozeman, and profiles that highlight Warner Norcross female attorneys who are leaders across the state and other individuals who have unique stories of why they joined the firm.  In addition, the Report includes articles about the firm’s Martin Luther King, Jr. , Essay Contest for students in the Grand Rapids Public Schools, the firm’s 2016 One Book, One Firm program that discussed the immigrant experience, and the firm’s unique collaboration with the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre to bring to the stage productions that focus on issues related to diversity and inclusion.

MLK Essay Contest Winners Recognized by the Grand Rapids Board of Education

Last evening, the Grand Rapids Board of Education recognized the winners and honorable mention recipients in this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Essay Contest.  Rodney Martin, the firm’s Diversity Partner, introduced the winners, who each had an opportunity to read their essay during the public meeting.  Mr. Martin then introduced each of the 24 honorable mention recipients, who came forward to receive their awards.  You can read the winning essays here.

This was the 12th year that Warner Norcross & Judd has conducted the essay contest for sixth graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  Over 300 students from 12 different middle schools submitted essays that responded to one of three prompts concerning the legacy of  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The essays were read and judged by over 50 attorneys and staff members at Warner.  Here are photos of the winners, and the honorable mention recipients.

The Winners of the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr., Essay Contest (left to right): Tess Cepaitis, Grand Prize, Riverside Middle School; Myaja Dunning, 1st Runner Up, Gerald R. Ford Academic Center; and Carmen Perdomo, 2nd Runner Up, Southwest Community Campus

The Winners of the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr., Essay Contest (left to right): Tess Cepaitis, Grand Prize, Riverside Middle School; Myaja Dunning, 1st Runner Up, Gerald R. Ford Academic Center; and Carmen Perdomo, 2nd Runner Up, Southwest Community Campus

The winners and honorable mention recipients in the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr., Essay Contest.

The winners and honorable mention recipients in the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr., Essay Contest.

Warner Norcross Announces Winners of MLK Essay Contest

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a major impact on the lives of many and his legacy still rings true today. This year, Warner Judd Norcross LLP asked sixth grade students in Grand Rapids to enter an essay contest to discuss the lasting impacts of his legacy. Now in its 12th year, the contest asks students to explore the work of Dr. King. Students wrote about the impact he had on equal rights in society, a conversation they would have with Dr. King or the impact of one of his many famous quotes has had on their lives. The competition is open to all sixth graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools district.

This year the firm received 314 essay submissions from 10 different schools. Essays were judged by more than 50 Warner Norcross attorneys and staff according to Michigan Education Assessment Program guidelines for narrative writing. The essays were evaluated for ideas, organization, style and conventions.

This year’s winners are:

  • Tess Cepaitis, Riverside Middle School, Grand Prize
  • Myaja Dunning, Gerald R. Ford Academic Center, First Runner-Up
  • Carmen Perdomo, Southwest Community Center, Second Runner-Up

Each winning student will receive a a gift card to Schuler Books and Music.  Additionally, 24 students from seven schools received honorable mention recognition. They each will receive a gift card to Schuler Books and Music. Every student who submitted an essay will receive a certificate of participation.Cepaitis and all winners are invited to attend the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Program held Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Fountain Street Church. All winners will be recognized by their peers and parents and listen to Cepaitis read her winning essay.

The grand prize winner and, if time permits, the two runners-up will be given an opportunity to read their essays at the GRPS Board of Education meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20. Warner Norcross Diversity Partner Rodney Martin will be in attendance at both programs to introduce the winners.

Here are the winning essays:

Grand Prize Winner

 Tess Cepaitis

Riverside Middle School

Ms. Holt’s Sixth Grade Class

“Silence”

 Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 This quote has had an impact on my life as well as on the lives of others. Kids in school struggle with this situation as well as adults in society where witnesses to crimes and other bad things stay silent out of fear. Most people would like to step up and do the right thing, but they are afraid. We need to get some guts and do what Dr. King suggested.

I remember a time when I stayed silent. It was a gloomy day when I was in the third grade. We had gone outside for recess, and the snow was covering the wood chips and play things. A quiet girl sat on the cold swings a couple of yards from me as I was making a snow angel. A boy ran over to the girl demanding that she give up her swing. She refused, quietly telling him there were lots of swings open. He pushed her off the swing into the snow. She stood up and her pants were soaked. The girl tried to wipe the slushy snow from her pants, I don’t know why, but I just went to the other side of the playground and kept making snow angels. After the lunch bell rang, I just walked back into the building and left her standing there all miserable and cold. The whole time I was thinking, You should have done something! You should have helped her! But I did nothing.

Ever since that day, the experience has haunted me. I still feel the same shame I did then when I remained quiet. Now I try to speak up for what is right and stop things like this at school, at the park, and everywhere I go. I now realize that I need to stop a bully’s tauntings right as they start instead of silently letting them happen. Every word we speak or don’t speak can make an impact. Dr. King tried to tell us that, and finally, I am listening.

 

1st Runner Up

Myaja Dunning

Gerald R. Ford Academic Center

Mr. Gleason’s Sixth Grade Class

 “The Quote I Like the Most”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” This is my favorite quote from MLK because it really spoke to me. It told me that if a person says something mean to me, they are just bringing darkness. But if you say something back to them you are bringing more darkness. It’s like the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.”

This quote makes a positive difference in my life because I used to get called mean names all the time. I don’t let that bother me because I’m not going to hold a grudge or bring darkness into the problem. The only way you can bring light into the problem is if you bring light and positivity into the problem. This quote helps me make a positive difference in the lives of my family and friends by encouraging me to be positive as much as possible. There are times when I may disagree with someone close to me, but that does not mean I have to be negative or dark about the situation. Reflecting on this quote encourages me to think positively about the situation, even if it may not be in my favor. It’s important to think about, and to consider, other peoples’ points of view, as it shows that you embrace diversity of thought.

Negativity breeds negativity, which is why it’s so important to be a beacon of light, positivity, and love through all circumstances. People tend to feel and feed off of positive energy. If more people can change their attitudes toward more positive thoughts, the world would be on track to become a better place, just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned it.

In an effort to make the world a better place, we should aim to drive out hate by filtering in positivity and love. Dr. King said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” I think people can look up to this quote.

 

2nd Runner Up

Carmen Perdomo

Southwest Community Campus

Ms. Quinlan’s Sixth Grade Class

“Judge Yourself First”

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights activist who believed in equal rights for all. He changed American History

I believe in equal rights. I believe that everyone deserves equality regardless of the color of their skin, the place they are from or the things they believe in. I know it is difficult for certain people to believe in equal rights, but I have a few things to say that just might make them change their minds.

It’s important for people to have equal rights regardless of race, color or beliefs because equality is freedom. Free of worry, free to travel and free to be whom you are when it comes to your beliefs. Being free is important; equal rights make you free.

It’s difficult for certain people to believe in equal rights. For example, some Americans believe if you aren’t from America you don’t have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Why does where we are born change the word ‘equal’ to ‘unequal’? I believe these people are wrong. The places we are or where we were in the past may define culture and traditions, but they don’t define our character. We all have hearts and care; that makes every single human being equal.

I would say the following to someone who doesn’t believe in equal rights: I think you may not believe in equal rights because of how the world is separated into different places. You may think all of the different places people come from means they are different. Like maybe you think they have different hearts, different ways to show kindness and different minds. It doesn’t. No matter our color, race or believes we are all the same. Human.

At the end of the day, regardless of race, color or beliefs, we all are the same. Nothing else but our character tells us who we are as people. If you’re going to judge, quietly judge yourself. Judging is a sign of lack of character. Be friendly, be nice, be peaceful, be willing, be someone who believes in equal rights.

I leave you to think about the following quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

I look to the day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Warner Norcross Announces Its One Book, One Firm Selection for 2016

The ArrivalEach year in our One Book, One Firm program at Warner Norcross & Judd, we select a book relating to diversity and inclusion and encourage everyone in the firm to read and discuss it. This year’s One Book, One Firm selection is The Arrival, by Shaun Tan.

The Arrival is unlike any other One Book, One Firm selection. It is a graphic novel without any words.  But, it is more than just a “picture book.” Through 128 pages of beautiful, wordless drawings, Tan evokes the immigrant experience.  The New York Times summarized the book, as follows:

“The Arrival” tells not an immigrant’s story, but the immigrant’s story. Its protagonist, a young father with vaguely Eurasian features, leaves his home to create a better life for his family in a distant land of opportunity. He struggles to find a job, a place to stay and a sense of meaning in his new existence. Along the way he befriends other, more established immigrants. He listens to their stories and benefits from their kindnesses. The young father reunites with his family as “The Arrival” draws to a close, and the distant land finally becomes home.

Shaun Tan is an artist and filmmaker from Australia.  In 2011, he won the Best Animated Short Film (“The Lost Thing”).  Tan describes himself as half-Chinese (his father was from China).  In an essay in which he describes the influences that led to his writing the book, Tan talks about his “recurring interest in notions of ‘belonging’, particularly the finding or losing of it.”  He writes:

Being a half-Chinese at a time a place when this was fairly unusual may have compounded this, as I was constantly being asked ‘where are you from?’ to which my response of ‘here’ only prompted a deeper inquiry, ‘where do your parents come from?’  At least this was far more positive attention than the occasional low-level racism I experienced as a child, and which I also noticed directed either overtly or surreptitiously at my Chinese father from time to time. Growing up I did have a vague sense of separateness, an unclear notion of identity or detachment from roots, on top of that traditionally contested concept of what it is to be ‘Australian’, or worse, ‘un-Australian’ (whatever that might mean).

There has been a lot of talk in this political year of building walls and meeting or failing to meet the needs of Syrian refugees.  With this year’s One Book, One Firm selection, we will step back from the political arguments and consider the immigrant experience and what it might teach us about inclusion in an organization like ours.

Each year we also create a list of other recommended reading that touches on diversity and inclusion and make them available in the firm’s libraries.  This year’s list includes four works of nonfiction and four novels.

Nonfiction

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  In a powerful series of essays written in the form of letters to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates engages in a frank discussion of race in America.  Between the World and Me won the 2015 National Book Award and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.  This is an important book that has been compared to the writings of James Baldwin.

My Beloved World, by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Sotomayor’s autobiography tells the story of her journey, from her childhood in a Bronx housing project to taking a seat on the federal bench. Resolving as a young girl to become a lawyer, Sotomayor graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and summa cum laude from Princeton, before attending law school at Yale and beginning her legal career.  NPR’s Nina Totenberg said of this book, “This is a page-turner, beautifully written and novelistic in its tale of family, love and triumph. It hums with hope and exhilaration. This is a story of human triumph.”

‘Tis: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt.  Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes was a huge bestseller and received a Pulitzer Prize.  McCourt’s next book was ‘Tis a Memoir, the story of his coming to the United States as an impoverished immigrant and becoming an brilliant teacher.

Managing Bubbie, by Russel Lazega.  Bubbie is an aging, stubborn survivor of the Holocaust, who lives in Miami Beach.  In a touching and hilarious family memoir, Bubbie’s grandson, a Miami lawyer, tells the story of the family’s efforts to care for a strong-willed woman in her declining years. From the BlueInk Review: “Lazega brings Bubbie to life with humor and love through side-splitting comedic dialogue and a powerful historical narrative accompanied with letters illuminating Lea’s struggle raising a family in Hitler’s Europe. Her improbable, hair-raising escape from Poland via Belgium, France and Spain illustrates the resourcefulness, derring-do, and sheer chutzpah of a woman who delivered her family to safety.”

Fiction

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Americanah was the winner of the 2013 National Book Award.  The author’s website describes the book as follows: “Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.”

Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri.  Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Lowland” is a novel set in both India and the United States.  It tells the story of two brothers who grew up in Calcutta. One brother ventures to the United States to do scientific research.  He returns to India following the death of the other brother in the hopes of piecing together the shattered remnants of his family.  Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for her first collection of short stories, Interpreters of Maladies, which is available in the firm’s diversity library.

Dancing with Butterflies, by Reyna Grande.  Reyna Grande’s Dancing with Butterflies, is novel about the friendship of four women bound together by their Mexican roots and their love of Folklórico dance. Dancing with Butterflies uses the alternating voices of four very different women in a Los Angeles dance company called Alegría to weave a story of friendship and love.

Shanghai Girls, by Lisa See.  [From the Publisher] “In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls.”