by Adrienne Kirshbaum
What would you say if you were asked to write about “Justice,” about what the word means to you and how it has impacted your life? That was the assignment given to the more than 200 high school students who entered Tenth Dems Community Connection’s 6th Annual Poetry and Prose Competition. And on Thursday evening, April 21, at the Ramada Inn Waukegan/Gurnee, a sizable audience made up of family, friends, and members of the community were privileged to hear readings of original poems and essays by a dozen or so of these bright, sensitive students.
Competition participants attend Waukegan, North Chicago, Zion-Benton, and Cristo Rey St. Martin de Porres high schools. They are freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. They wrote about their own lives, the lives of others, things they’d seen, historical events, and events they’d only imagined. Their writings revealed a social conscience and sophistication far beyond their years.
A panel of published authors judged the entries blind i.e., stripped of author identifiers. There were separate competitions for poetry and prose, with first, second, and third place prizewinners in each category awarded $150, $100, and $50, respectively. Prizewinners also received framed certificates, as did six students who earned honorable mentions, three in each categories. At Awards Night, all participants also received a book bag and water bottle.
The evening’s emcees, Dulce Ortiz and Hon. Marc Jones, invited the young authors to the podium to read their works. Both were so warm and friendly that even some of the students who at first were reluctant to read to the audience were won over and decided to take part. In a decorated with flowers, banners, and famous quotations about “justice,” these young people stood at a podium and read with poise and feeling.
Both volunteer emcees are lifelong residents of Waukegan with long and impressive records of service to their community. Both are members of the Latino Coalition of Lake County, and Dulce Ortiz serves on the organization’s board. Marc Jones, who serves as a Waukegan Park District Commissioner, has the distinction of being only the second African-American elected to the board in the Park District’s 99-year history.
The volunteers who judged the students’ work also have impressive backgrounds. Lois Baer Barr, Associate Professor of Spanish at Lake Forest College, has published works in both Spanish and English. Lois has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for both fiction and poetry. Shanica Bell is a Christian minister and author, she edits a magazine and hosts an Internet radio show, and she is the CEO of a media marketing firm. Herb Berman is a lawyer and labor arbitrator and co-founder of the Library Poets, a poetry workshop sponsored by the Deerfield Public Library. His poems have been published in many literary journals. Mary Jane Gabrielsen is also a co-founder of the Libray Poets and an editor for East on Central literary journal. Her poetry is published in The Avocet, and she has most recently collaborated with five other writers on a progressive novella due out in May.
The judges were invited to read original works during the course of the evening, and those who were able to attend gladly complied, to the delight of the audience. Judy Kaufman, Editor-in-Chief of East on Central literary journal and a longtime judge of past Community Connection Poetry and Prose competitions, gave opening remarks.
But the night belonged to the student authors. One by one, they came to the podium and read their works. The audience couldn’t help but be moved by their performances. It was clear that these young people had talent and intelligence, and that the theme of “Justice” had inspired them to write great things.