By Lofton Wheeles
For the Opelika Observer
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is partnering with the Lee County Remembrance Project (LCRP) to provide a scholarship for public high school students.
This is the first time the scholarship has been offered and the scholarship opportunity asks students to write an essay that looks at the history of racial injustice topic and discuss the legacy that topic has today.
Olivia Nichols and Ashley Brown are the co-founders of the LCRP and according to Brown, the project reflects, commemorates and honors five black men who were victims of racial terror lynchings and while it does focus on the Jim Crow era, it also focuses on other eras within the African American community where oppression is being faced in the past and in the present.
“[We] wanted to better understand these men’s stories and narratives and experiences because all should be aware of what the trauma they have experienced and their families experienced,” Brown said. “We know that historically there have been voices left out and so focusing on the African American Black population, or individuals rather, we know that historically the traumas and the fullness of experience has been left out of our history classes and other classes.
So with this racial justice high school essay contest that is done through Equal Justice Initiative where Lee County Remembrance Project is supporting these efforts allows for students the opportunity to understand and become more knowledgeable about Black African Americans’ experiences both past and also connect those to present day.”
The contest came into fruition as EJI and LRCP wanted to educate and get more involvement within the community. The contest also has significance as far as leaving an impact is concerned, according to contest organizer Sara Demoiny.
“I think that [the contest] is really important to begin doing any kind of racial reconciliation or racial justice work for us to first just tell the truth about what has happened in our history and so this gives students an opportunity to dive into local histories of racial injustices and connect those to present day happenings that may be happening here in Lee County but also happening in other places in the U.S. to see what are the legacies of these injustices and how has that maybe changed forms, but still exists today,” she said. “The last component of this essay contest is for high school students to think about what they can do to challenge these injustices as they’re seeking a more equitable society and community.
“So they’re really thinking about not only learning about the history that’s happened and connecting that to what’s happening today but really thinking about what can we do about that and how can I be involved in making those changes.”
Brown also wanted to provide a quote to encourage students to participate in the scholarship opportunity and to encourage students to learn from the past to create a better future.
“We would like to leave students with this quote by Maya Angelou that states: ‘History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but if faced with courage, need not to be lived again.’,” she said. “In this contest, another hope is that we want students to face these issues, to understand the oppression and the fullness of these injustices and face it with courage so that there can be more conversation [and] discussion.
“They’re our future leaders and it is important that they know what folks have experienced, what marginalized individuals continue to experience so that we can work on ways to dismantle the system. We hope that they use their voices and that they continue to write and express these injustices so that we can have a better tomorrow and so that we’re not continuously repeating history.”
The prize for the scholarship Is up to $5000 and the deadline for the scholarship is May 1. There will be an upcoming oral history panel where individuals from the community will share about their own experiences in mid-April as well as a writing workshop, according to Demoiny.
For more information, please visit www.tinyurl.com/LeeCountyEssayContest.