Spencer High School senior Shawn Gatewood won third place in a national essay contest sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Also impressive were the words he spoke while the Muscogee County School Board honored him during last month’s meeting.
Shawn’s essay, “Restoring Our Communities,” focused on what he called “two distinct actions — community engagement and community involvement.” He asserted that “trust has been on a constant downward slope. ... This progression is especially tragic in the black community as neighborhoods that once held brotherhood and political activism are now infamous for the opposite.”
Then he offered the “sense of interconnectedness” in the black church as “an antidote for the common plagues that strike communities.”
Shawn wrote, “Problems often spotlighted within black communities can be seen as caused by a lack of engagement and involvement. Foremost is the sense that politics and public affairs are someone else’s responsibility. … It’s seemingly not ‘black’ to be smart, and all too often, the proper-speaking child is ridiculed and ostracized. This disconnect from one another results in minorities lacking connections, connections so crucial to educational and professional success. Finally, with no deep ties to one’s community, damaging it with crime is no longer an assault against personal friends but a test of how much one can appropriate from the closest source without being caught.
“… By starting with his closest neighbor, and working his way out, a single man can revitalize his community. A single person can be the spark to relight the flame of their peers.”
After school district officials finished lauding him, Shawn praised them in return with this expression of gratitude: “I appreciate what you have done for me as far as the whole system of Muscogee County, for everything you’ve brought to me as far as opportunities to show myself and what I believe.”
For finishing third in the nation, Shawn received $750 and an all-expenses-paid trip to the foundation’s annual legislative conference Sept. 14-18 in Washington, D.C., where he read an excerpt from his award-winning essay.