Book Writing Scholarship Contest Focuses on Tolerance and Diversity
The winner of this year’s Diverse Minds Writing Challenge in the D.C.-metro area is “My Family is Different,” written and illustrated by Anahit Kanayan, a sophomore at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. Diverse Minds is a contest where high school students write and illustrate children’s books to help elementary school children celebrate tolerance and diversity. Kanayan was announced the winner at an award ceremony at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery on June 1.
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.
In Kanayan’s story, “My Family is Different,” a character named Delina decides to take a new art class and was very nervous about meeting new people. Delina’s art teacher tells her students that their topic for the day is drawing the people they love and their families. Delina wonders how she can draw her family, because she doesn’t have a father and questions what the other students might think of her “different family.” At the end of the class, all the children show one another their drawings and Delina realizes that everyone’s family is a little different, but just as beautiful.
The finalists and winners were congratulated by Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International; Donna Cooper; region president of Pepco; and Debbi Jarvis, vice president of corporate relations of Pepco Holdings.
“Originally the Challenge was created with the concept that we must encourage and celebrate diversity — diversity in our communities, in our workplaces, in our schools. And 10 years later, I think we can see in society that there is a richer diversity than ever before,” Mariaschin said.
“On behalf of Pepco, I would like to thank B’nai B’rith International for its commitment to diversity and inclusion a set of values Pepco also promotes. Since its inception, the Diverse Minds Writing Challenge has given talented students a unique opportunity to spread the message of diversity and inclusion through their own personal lenses and has allowed them to capture the subject in a way that can inspire the younger generations that follow. The masterful pieces of art and prose in these books help to educate students by sharing elements of diversity and inclusion in personalized, thoughtful and creative ways collaboratively. We are inspired by their ingenuity and compassion in wanting to give back to others through their work in this competition,” Cooper said.
At the award ceremony, local children’s author Wendy Shang addressed the finalists and gave an inspiring speech that included 10 points, in honor of Diverse Minds 10th anniversary, offering advice and encouragement on how to become a writer.
“Don’t be afraid to call yourself a writer. Your only qualification is that you must write, and you must be willing to work at your writing. Call yourself a writer, and then go write.” She also told the students: “Writing a children’s book is a creative act of hope and good will. It is also an act of bravery. It is easy to be cruel, cynical and critical, but it takes guts to create.” In another point, Shang said: “That when we love a book, really care about a book, and we can’t stop thinking about it, talking about it, it actually changes the way we think, the way we see the world and the way we see each other. We spread the book. And this could change the world.” And Shang concluded: “Don’t be afraid to swing for the fences; write with your soul on fire.”
By placing first, Kanayan won a $5,000 scholarship and her book has been professionally published. It will be distributed to local schools, libraries and community organizations, as well as to the annual TODAY Show Holiday Toy and Gift Drive. Her book will also be accessible in an e-book format and will be available on iTunes and Amazon as a free download.
Second place winner Eliyah Lister from School Without Walls in Washington, D.C. wrote and illustrated “Hadia’s Lunch” and received a $2,000 scholarship. Third place winner Chaya Duppins from Clarksburg High School in Clarksburg, Md. wrote and illustrated “The Stars of the Night Sky” and obtained a $1,000 scholarship. In addition, Kanayan’s teacher who oversaw the creation of her winning book received a $1,000 grant to use for classroom or organizational materials. Duke Ellington School of the Arts received a $500 grant.
The Challenge is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and including this year’s contest, B’nai B’rith has now published 33 original children’s books, in two different languages (English and Spanish), awarded more than $300,000 in college scholarships and grants and donated more than 39,000 books to public schools, libraries and community organizations across the country.
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 include: David M. Velazquez, president and CEO of Pepco Holdings; Larry A. Bowers, Interim Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools; Sybille A. Jagusch, chief of the Library of Congress’ Children’s Literature Center; Jacqueline Jules, author and poet; Carolyn Parkhurst, author; Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO of Reading is Fundamental; and Lissa Rosenthal-Yoffe, executive director of the DC Arts & Humanities Education Collaborative.
B’nai B’rith is pleased to partner with Pepco for the D.C. area Challenge. We are also excited to work with Atlantic City Electric and Delmarva Power, holding contests for a third year for students in South Jersey and the Delmarva Peninsula.