Essay contest to promote cultural awareness
As Black History month gets underway, local high-school-age students are being invited to write essays on this year's theme, "From Slavery to Freedom." If their curiosity about Black history is not motivation enough, the local branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is offering prizes for the top essays received.
The ASALH will launch the contest on Saturday, Feb. 17, with a special event at the Oak Bluffs Public Library, from 12 noon until 1:30 pm. Students who plan to participate and those who are considering taking part but want more information will receive detailed contest rules and requirements. Video clips documenting the modern civil rights movement and the struggle for freedom will be shown. The library will also host two workshops in March for students seeking guidance on historical research and writing.
All students in grades nine through 12 whose home is on the Vineyard are eligible to participate. As well as students who attend local high schools, those who study at off-Island schools or are home-schooled may take part
According to historian Robert Hayden, president of the local ASALH branch, the contest has several goals. Along with fostering writing and research skills, the competition aims to interest young people in African American history and promote general cultural awareness.
"This will help everyone deal with the increasing cultural diversity on the Island and in the world," said Mr. Hayden in a telephone conversation Monday.
Mr. Hayden said that ASALH, a national organization, works to provide information on African American life and culture to the global community and that this contest is a way to further that goal on a local level. In addition, he said that in a recent planning session the Oak Bluffs Library set a priority on programming and materials which increase cultural awareness. The library will be the site for several gatherings related to the contest.
An historian, educator, and author, Mr. Hayden has extensive experience in the field of African American history. He has authored a total of 19 books and other publications on the subject, the most recent being "African Americans on Martha's Vineyard: A History of People, Places and Events" (2005).
The organization decided to adopt the national Black History Month theme as its essay subject this year because of its strong significance.
"We're asking them to look at that journey, from the days of slavery to how people gained their freedom," Mr. Hayden explained, adding that there are a number of different angles a writer could take on the important subject.
Prizes for winning essays will include cash awards, books, and a youth membership in ASALH.
The first Vineyard ASALH Black History essay contest, held two years ago, inspired young writers to submit compositions on a creative range of subjects. The students chose essay subjects including the murder of Emmett Till, Billy Holiday, Blacks in Science, and African American Inventors.
The contest is being supported in part by grants from the Bank of Martha's Vineyard and the Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha's Vineyard.
In a press release announcing the contest, Mr. Hayden wrote that ASALH was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an historian. "The Association's mission is to research, study, interpret, preserve, and promote information about Black history, life, and culture to the global community," he wrote. "The Martha's Vineyard branch, founded in March 2002, supports the study of African American history in schools, homes, churches, community groups, businesses, and government."
Students this year will have the opportunity to hone their skills at two workshops at the Oak Bluffs library. Mr. Hayden will lead the sessions along with others from the local ASALH group. The first, "How to Do Historical Research," will be held on Saturday, March 3, and "How to Write an Historical Essay" is the topic on Saturday, March 10. Both events will be held from 12 noon until 1:30 pm.
ASALH Black History Contest kick-off, Saturday, Feb. 17, 12 noon to 1:30 pm, Oak Bluffs Public Library. For further information about ASALH, the essay contest, and related events, call Robert Hayden, 508-693-8714.