Silver Spring High School Students Wins D.C.-Area B'nai B'rith Diverse Minds Youth Writing Challenge
Book Writing Contest Focused on Tolerance and Diversity
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray Served As a Judge
The winner of this year’s Diverse Minds Youth Writing Challenge is “Pepper the Porcupine and the Big Parade” written by Jourdan Lewanda and illustrated by Andrew Latona, both graduating seniors at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Md. Diverse Minds is a contest where high school students write and illustrate children’s books to help elementary school children celebrate tolerance and diversity. The winning book was announced the evening of June 6 at the PEPCO Edison Place Gallery.
“It’s an honor to continue Diverse Minds into its 7th year and to see all of the great things that come out of this program,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “The work these kids do is outstanding and I never tire of seeing the positive impact that comes from distributing these books in the community.”
In Lewanda and Latona’s story “Pepper the Porcupine and the Big Parade,” Pepper the porcupine wants to participate in his town's parade band, but doesn't have much talent for playing an instrument. After searching for his place to fit in, he finds his unique talent as the band leader.
Pepco Holdings President and CEO Joseph Rigby, who served as a judge, told the finalists how impressed he was with their efforts and noted how important their messages of tolerance are: “The notion of diversity is one of our five values.”
“As a judge of this contest, every year I’m more and more amazed at the stories and illustrations that we receive,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, who served as a judge and presented the award to the winners. “It’s encouraging, and also refreshing, to see today’s youth committed to making a change in the world and helping younger generations celebrate acceptance of others.”
The winners earn a $5,000 college scholarship and their book has been professionally published. In the coming weeks, it will be distributed to local schools and libraries. It will also be published in an e-book format, available for free download.
Sybille Jagusch, chief of the Children’s Literature Center at the Library of Congress and also a contest judge, addressed the finalists, offering practical advice and a plea:. “Consider making more books!” Other tips she offered all of the finalists who may be considering writing careers: “Your story should have feelings,” as well as “let your heart speak.”
Lewanda, the winning book’s author, is a distinguished student, excelling both academically and artistically. She earned the AP Scholar with Distinction award from the College Board, as well as various recognitions for her work as an actress, including the Superintendent’s Award for Theatre from Montgomery County Public Schools, and the Award of Excellence in the Arts from the National Society of Arts and Letters and the Kennedy Center. When she begins college in the fall, she hopes to pursue musical theatre or acting, along with a minor in English.
Latona, the winning book’s illustrator, is also an excellent student, thriving in AP English, art and music classes. He is the leader of the Eubie Blake Jazz Quintet and also serves as a captain of his school’s swim team. Latona has always enjoyed drawing and painting, and he hopes to pursue those passions in the future.
Second place winners David Ng and Kayla Trinh from Damascus High School in Damascus, Md., wrote and illustrated “Birds in Blue” and will receive a $2,000 scholarship. Third place winners Chala A. M. Tshitundu and Rebecca H. Hamilton-Levi, from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, wrote and illustrated “Everyone is Royal” and will receive a $1,000 scholarship. In addition, Lewanda and Latona’s teacher Amy Branson, who oversaw the creation of their winning book, will receive a $500 stipend to use for classroom or organizational materials. James Hubert Blake High School will receive a $500 grant.
The 10 finalists in the contest hailed from cities all across the region including students from Chevy Chase, Clarksburg, Damascus, North Potomac, Olney and Silver Spring in Maryland, as well as Arlington, Va., and Washington, D.C.
This education and awareness initiative was created in conjunction with B’nai B’rith programs that promote tolerance and communicate a message of equality among all citizens. The contest aims to enlighten, inspire and educate America's young people and their families in an effort to abolish prejudices and strengthen ties among today’s youth.
A diverse panel of judges from the Washington, D.C. worlds of education, the arts, business and government, along with B’nai B’rith International leaders, reviewed the submissions and selected the finalists and winner. The judges include District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Pepco Holdings President and CEO Joseph Rigby and Sybille Jagusch, chief of the Children’s Literature Center at the Library of Congress,. B’nai B’rith is pleased to work in partnership with PEPCO for the 2012-2013 Diverse Minds Youth Writing Challenge.
The top-five books from this year’s contest can be read here.
B’nai B’rith International is pleased that after 10 years of effort, the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, and the Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance were approved by the Organization of American States’ (OAS) General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala on June 5.
These conventions will be extremely important tools in the fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, as they establish clear obligations for member states to establishing policies that enforce the protocols within the conventions. The conventions now put the onus on member states to ratify legislation that prevents, prohibits and punishes all acts of discrimination.
“This is a great day for those who hope to live in a world where discrimination and intolerance are pushed to the fringes of society and no longer tolerated,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “B’nai B’rith has diligently worked for many years for the passage of these conventions. It’s a proud day for us and the Organization of American States.”
For nearly a decade, B’nai B’rith has been involved in the development of these conventions, from inception to passage. Our staff members in Washington, D.C., and across Latin America have worked from the outset within the OAS and in bilateral discussions with a number of governments to get them adopted.
In 2004, B’nai B’rith actively worked with the group in charge of drafting these documents and successfully lobbied for the inclusion of anti-Semitism—a rising problem in Latin America—as a form of discrimination. Since the conventions’ initial drafting, B’nai B’rith has attended every OAS general assembly to push for their passage.
B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, who has testified before the OAS advocating for its adoption, said: “It is important that we have these kinds of conventions in place so we can present a united, uniform front against discrimination and bigotry. It presents member states with clear guidelines on how they should crack down on hate speech and racial discrimination and leaves no room for excuses for not purging intolerance from our society.”
Older people, who sometimes experience diminished cognitive or mental functioning or become more isolated as they age, are increasingly becoming the victims of abuse. They are vulnerable to abuse from a variety of sources, including both strangers and family members.
In the summer 2013 issue of B’nai B’rith Magazine, writer Jeannie Counce assesses the problem and efforts to combat it. “With America’s older population growing in numbers along with longer life expectancies, so is the problem of elder abuse—physical, financial, sexual and psychological—and Jewish organizations are in the forefront of efforts to combat it,” writes Counce in her alarming cover story.
The Administration on Aging in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared 2013 “The Year of Elder Abuse Prevention.” Awareness of the problem has been growing. Organizations like the Jewish Association Serving the Aging have stressed preparedness and early intervention as a means of curbing instances of abuse. B’nai B’rith has raised awareness of abuses that include financial scams and identity theft and has supported legislation that facilitated the detection of abuse and the prosecution of perpetrators.
Many instances of elder abuse go unreported—often, seniors fear additional repercussions or choose not to get a family member into trouble. The Administration on Aging estimates that there could be as many as 12 million victims of elder abuse each year, including unreported cases. While numerous organizations work to provide services to victims, much of the fight is aimed at preventing abuse from ever happening. By disseminating information and heightening awareness, numerous organizations and institutions are trying to ensure the ability of older Americans to live their lives with dignity and security.
Also in the summer issue, writer Uriel Heilman reports on the expansion of Hebrew-language charter schools in the United States and the controversy they have aroused. Some claim that these schools not only are thinly veiled attempts at providing Jewish education in a public-school forum but harm private Jewish day schools by offering similar, tuition-free education. Administrators maintain they offer no religious education and thus do not directly compete with private Jewish schools. These charter schools are open to students of any race or religion, offering a diverse student body the opportunity to learn in a bilingual atmosphere.
Elsewhere in the magazine, read about the inspiring journey of Harvey Horn, an American flight officer who became a POW in Nazi-occupied Italy in 1945. Writer Bruce H. Wolk takes readers through Horn’s arduous trek from Italy to Germany, where he helped protect his German guards from the liberating American Army. Even under the duress of a Nazi interrogation, Horn always maintained his Jewish faith.
B’nai B’rith Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin and his wife, Michal Mazal, were honored with the Distinguished Humanitarian Award along with International Senior Vice President Bruce Pascal and his wife, Amy, at an April 25 dinner. Our B’nai B’rith Today section gives a full report.
Elsewhere, Mariaschin writes in his regular column about a mission to Israel with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Read this—and more—in the summer 2013 issue of B’nai B’rith Magazine by clicking here.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International welcomes the appointment of Susan Rice as the new national security adviser.
Rice was previously the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and served as a positive force within the world body. She often defended Israel against malicious one-sided resolutions intended to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. Rice spoke at the United Nations about the importance of direct negotiation between the parties to the Middle East conflict and urged the world body to resist unilateral measures aimed at circumventing the peace process.
Rice also expressed U.S. support for strong international sanctions against Iran and made clear America’s determination to prevent the regime in Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
B’nai B’rith looks forward to working with Rice in her new position. We hope that in her new role she will be a force for advancing the same principles she fought for at the U.N.
B’nai B’rith Finds Latest Social Security and Medicare Trustees Report Encouraging, Hopes Stakeholders Will Carefully Review Contents
B’nai B’rith International urges stakeholders and analysts to take note of the encouraging news in the Social Security and Medicare trustees report. Despite the debate that the report usually provokes, neither system is in crisis, and there is actually quite good news with respect to Medicare this year.
B’nai B’rith is cautiously optimistic about news in the trustees report. While we expect headline makers may focus on the projected shortfall dates for Social Security—in particular for the disability program—as well as for Medicare, the overriding story of the report is one of income and surpluses of which most governments or programs would be envious. Though there is reason to be concerned about the programs into the future, there is no reason to legislate by panic.
“In short, Social Security itself has an enormous surplus of nearly $3 trillion, and it has brought in another $40 billion more than it spent in 2013 alone. Medicare also gained two years before it is projected to have trouble financing benefits, pushing the new date to 2026, which is terrific news,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “We are all aware that Social Security needs more money in the future if it is going to continue to assist people, but that’s not an emergency. It has nothing to do with the current flurry of deficit reduction proposals. We should talk about solvency, separate from deficit reduction, and when we do we must emphasize solvency and adequacy,” Jacobs continued.
B’nai B’rith is deeply committed to both Social Security and Medicare’s ability to adequately meet the needs of their beneficiaries, while also being able to cover their long-term expenditures. More and more we find that after the Great Recession, these programs provide bedrock health and income security to older Americans and the disabled, and without them millions would live in abject poverty.
Reform of these programs to ensure their long-term solvency should be done in a less heated environment that recognizes thoughtful and reasoned bipartisan efforts. There are two most important takeaways from the report: Social Security is solvent and running a surplus, and Medicare is getting healthier because of changes made in the last few years.
This is a claim most governments would take pride in making. Social Security has enough money saved and flowing in to make full payments until 2033 (and to pay more than three-fourths of benefits after that date, even if none of the current options were enacted—an unlikely scenario). Finding revenue to fund benefits in those out years is feasible and must be the goal. The shortsighted approach would be to cut benefits and make solvency and austerity priorities, rather than focusing on adequate benefits to keep elders out of poverty.
We also caution policymakers against potential calls for cuts to the disability programs because of the shortfalls in the Disability Insurance Program. This issue has been dealt with in the past and can be dealt with now by shifting a relatively small portion of the trust fund into this account.
“We know times are tough and the federal budget is tight, but Social Security and Medicare keep people out of poverty and in retirement or on disability. Cutting benefits to make the system solvent could leave its beneficiaries destitute. This doesn’t make sense,” B’nai B’rith International Associate Vice President Mark D. Olshan said. “Workers and families pay into these systems as a social insurance policy against poverty in old age or disability. We need to stop apologizing for spending Social Security taxes on Social Security benefits. And we should also take a moment to see the good news: We are already bending the Medicare cost curve and improving that system’s outlook for the future.”
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:
B’nai B’rith International mourns the passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Lautenberg was a World War II veteran and a dear friend of the Jewish community. As a senator from New Jersey for more than 28 years, he was a staunch supporter of Israel, a champion of free emigration for Soviet and Iranian Jews, and a booster of the rights of Jewish refugees from the Middle East.
Lautenberg died the morning of June 3 at the age of 89 due to complications from viral pneumonia. He was the oldest member and the last World War II veteran to serve in Congress.
Lautenberg was a respected voice on many human rights issues, and he was key in enacting a number of health and safety laws.
The five-term senator was well respected amongst his colleagues and constituents. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.