Young Writers Earn Respect

By Jeanine Chyna.

Aretha Franklin isn’t the only one who wants it. I now know what R-E-S-P-E-C-T means to the more than a dozen high school students who confidently read their original compositions themed “Respect” at the 9th Annual Tenth Dems Poetry and Prose Contest Awards Night on April 10th. Politics should be about more than elections. This is what Tenth Dems believes, and on Awards Night it was on full display.

I enjoyed some refreshments and conversation before the program began. Then, seated in the Waukegan Park District’s charming Jack Benny Theatre, I listened as the young authors from Waukegan, North Chicago, and Zion area high schools read their heartfelt and emotional poems and stories. We all sat in rapt attention hearing how respect impacted their personal lives, as the students read original poems and stories with titles like: “That’s Not My Name,” “Cancer,” “Look Me In My Eyes,” “Respect For My Immigrant Mother,” and “B.L.A.C.K.”

Everyone learned a bit more about the contest participants as host Kevin Lampe introduced each student writer by reading the short personal statement submitted with their compositions. We discovered that the student authors have a variety of interests, including sports and music and math and science, and they look forward to pursuing their educations and becoming role models to their younger siblings.

Nearly 100 students attending high schools in Waukegan, Zion, and North Chicago entered the contest. Over the course of the evening, winners were announced. In addition to framed certificates, Tenth Dems awarded 12 gift cards totaling more than $1,000 to first, second, and third place for poetry and prose as well as three honorable mentions each. Contest winners said they were excited about the generous cash gift cards, and also the opportunity to speak in public.

Host Lampe lightheartedly talked from personal experience about the fear of speaking in front of people and put the students at ease by telling them, “If you’re not nervous, then you’re not in the moment.”

This year’s volunteer judges, local poets Lois Baer Barr, Lina Chern, Mary Jane (MJ) Gabrielson, and Jacqueline Nicole Harris, along with Josue Pasillas, a contest winner in 2013, all were present to cheer on the young writers and recognize the winners whose anonymous entries they’d selected. To honor Harris for her many years of service as a volunteer judge and organizer of the event, Tenth Dems presented to every student reader an autographed copy of one of her books, 7 Random Things, by Jacqueline Nicole Harris.

In addition to readings by Harris and Barr, North Chicago poet Sharon Epps recited her own poem “Cornbread,” leading the audience in a lively call-and-response. Epps spoke so passionately of the delight of making, eating, and sharing her family recipe “with a big ‘ol slab of butter” I could almost taste it.

All present loved the creativity, passion, and authenticity from the amazing young authors. Awards Night was an incredibly positive, moving experience for all involved, regardless of whether someone received a gift card or door prize or applause. Everyone won by having the chance to participate in such a warm and wonderful event.


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