Students from School Without Walls and Duke Ellington School of the Arts won a college scholarship for their creative and insightful book advocating tolerance and diversity.
The winner of this year’s Diverse Minds Writing Challenge in the Washington, D.C.-metro area is “To Draw the World,” written by Mary Isabel Mejía Roberts, a student at School Without Walls and illustrated by Pablo Javier Echevarria, a student from Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Diverse Minds is a scholarship contest where high school students write and illustrate children’s books to help elementary school children celebrate and appreciate tolerance and diversity.
Mejía Roberts and Echevarria were announced as the winners at an awards ceremony at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery on June 6.
This education and awareness initiative was created as part of B’nai B’rith programming that promotes tolerance and communicates a message of equality among all citizens. Funded by Pepco, the contest aims to enlighten, inspire and educate America's young people and their families in an effort to eradicate prejudices and strengthen ties among today’s youth.
The inspiration behind “To Draw the World” stemmed from Mejía Roberts and Echevarria’s passion to increase awareness of the diversity within Latin America and other countries. The author’s enthusiasm to capture worldly themes comes from her own travels and experiences living in various countries. By showcasing children around the world in their book, the author and illustrator hope that all forms of media will be more inclusive of those underrepresented in traditional media.
“The message of the book is that though people are different, that's not bad. Differences should be celebrated, and not isolated,” Mejía Roberts and Echevarria said.
The finalists and winners were congratulated by Bruce Pascal, B’nai B’rith International past senior vice president, Dave Velazquez, president and CEO of Pepco Holdings, and Donna Cooper, region president of Pepco.
“Through programs such as the Diverse Minds Writing Challenge, we can begin discussions about tolerance in our schools, our homes and our communities in hopes that the dialogue will spread throughout the country and the world. A key factor to a more tolerant society is access to higher education… And so it is only appropriate that the prizes for this program are college scholarships,” Pascal said.
“We are inspired by the ingenuity and compassion of these talented students and their important messages focusing on diversity and inclusion,” said Dave Velazquez, president and CEO of Pepco Holdings. “Each year, our partnership with B’nai B’rith gives us the wonderful opportunity to showcase how our youth are spreading the message of diversity and inclusion through their own personal lenses and we are always impressed and energized by the messages, themes, and courage they share through their books.”
At the award ceremony, award-winning author Leah Henderson addressed the finalists and gave an inspiring speech on how diversity, tolerance, acceptance and inclusion can only come about by seeing other's possibilities, and that “to have true diversity...other people must be able to see your possibilities as well.”
By placing first, Mejía Roberts and Echevarria will share a $5,000 college scholarship, and their book, which was written in both Spanish and English, has been professionally published. The book will be distributed to local schools, libraries and community organizations, as well as to the annual TODAY Show Holiday Toy and Gift Drive. The book also will be accessible in an e-book format and will be available on iTunes and Amazon as a free download.
Second place winner Kaniz Fatema, also from Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. wrote and illustrated “Nothing Strange About a Name” and received a $2,000 scholarship.
Third place winner Joy Anderson from St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C. wrote and illustrated “The Star of the Show” and received a $1,000 scholarship.
In addition, the teacher who advised Mejía Roberts and Echevarria, Rachel Blessing, received a $1,000 grant to use for classroom or organizational materials. School Without Walls and Duke Ellington School of the Arts will split a $500 grant.
A diverse panel of judges from the worlds of education, the arts, business and government, along with B’nai B’rith International leaders, reviewed the submissions and selected the winners. Judges this year included: Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International; Carolyn Parkhurst, author; Ari Z. Brooks, executive director of Friends of the Library in Montgomery County, Maryland; and Lissa Rosenthal-Yoffe, executive director of the DC Arts & Humanities Education Collaborative.
Since the contest began in the 2006-2007 school year, B’nai B’rith has now published 41 original children’s books, in two different languages (English and Spanish), awarded more than $330,000 in college scholarships and grants and donated more than 45,000 books to public schools, libraries and community organizations across the country.
Pepco began sponsoring the D.C. Diverse Minds Writing Challenge
Atlantic City Electric and Delmarva Power also held contests this week for students in South Jersey and the Delmarva Peninsula. This is the fifth year they have participated in the Diverse Minds Writing Challenge.