The challenges youth leaders face during the coronavirus pandemic on the local and national level and how they can be addressed served as the overriding theme of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. D.C. Student Essay Competition Awards Ceremony that took place virtually on Jan. 15.

The Mayor’s Youth Leadership Institute Alumni Association (MYLIAA) and the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Committee of Washington, D.C. co-sponsored the ceremony. Norm Nixon, the president of the MYLIAA, said 96 students submitted essays from the District’s public, private and charter schools.

Nixon applauded the students who participated in the contest.

“These young people entered the essay contest in a COVID-19 situation and they are not going to classrooms in schools,” Nixon said. “Our young people are fantastic and phenomenal. All who entered are winners.”

Nixon said Stuart-Hobson Middle School was the source of the most essay contestants.

The MYLIAA recruited judges for the contest. Dr. Nicole A. Johnson-Douglas was the architect of the logistics of the contest.

The students received the charge of “explaining what you think is the most important inequality that COVID-19 exposed within your community?” The charge should have been written under the context of what youth leaders can do locally and nationally to affect change.

In the elementary school division, Alice Deal Middle School student Emma Cappelloni took first, with Marley Young and Leah Williams from Stuart-Hobson placing second and third, respectively. Cappelloni read her essay aloud, calling for youth leaders to become more proactive in helping those who are underprivileged.

In the middle school division, Stuart-Hobson’s Ezinne Oti and Laila tied for first place honors. Ofi wrote about the Black Lives Matter Movement and its effect on the country and the state of African American mental health. Laila touched on the same issues, focusing on the importance of youth engagement and education.

In the high school division, Asher Lawrence of the School Without Walls won first place while Amay Arora of School Without Walls took second.

A tie for third place occurred between Tony Jackson and Lilly Shaw of the School Without Walls and Aya Settles of Banneker High School. Lawrence’s essay detailed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people of color and how it exacerbates already existing racial disparities.

Prizes for first-place winners included laptop computers and electronic tablets.

Denise Rolark Barnes, the publisher of The Washington Informer and co-chair of the King Holiday committee, thanked the students for participating in the contest but acknowledged the volunteers who help coordinate the event.

“I would like to commend Jasmine Boyd as the team leader for this event,” Barnes said. “We often talk about the three Ms plus one: Martin, Malcolm, Medgar and Marion Barry. There are three others Ms I would like to recognize: Merilyn Holmes, Macon Johnson and Maria Patricia for their work with the competition.”

James Wright photo

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

Join the Conversation


  1. Please correct the winner’s surname twice in the two sentences below. She’s Ezinne Oti. Thank you.

    In the middle school division, Stuart-Hobson’s Ezinne Ofi and Laila tied for first place honors. Ofi wrote about the Black Lives Matter Movement and its effect on the country and the state of African American mental health.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *