The 2008-2009 Essay Contest Winners:
1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place

High School Division

First Place (tie)

Grace Chao
Grade 12
St. Mary's High School
Woodside, New York

Oftentimes youth in the United States are overlooked. We are considered still in the process of maturing, and hence our voice is not yet well-developed, not "worth" listening to. However, it is in this period of development that we need the most to engage in meaningful dialogue on issues of prejudice and discrimination. However, looking at the vast number of media programs geared towards teenagers, those that do address important issues of race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation are in the minority.

There is a dire need to create a platform for youth to share their opinions that will be a part of mainstream teen culture. Raising awareness of matters of race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation are imperative to combat prejudice in our society. I feel the best way to reach youth in such a way is through the creation of a magazine series. My prototype is called "Walk a Mile in My Shoes". Every month, another installment will appear in magazines throughout the United States. Each installment will focus on one of the listed issues and follow a teenager living in the United States for a few days and will include pictures of the youth's family, friends, school, neighborhood, and other things that are important to him or her. The article will be written by the student. The installment will also include several commentaries by other students from around the country. Each young commentator will provide a brief statement of their opinion on the issue before reading the article and then a reaction after reading it and perhaps after meeting the featured young person. Readers will also be encouraged to submit commentary to be published at the beginning of the next issue. The "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" series would ideally appear in magazines that reach many youth both inside school and outside for leisure. Some examples are Upfront, Seventeen, National Geographic, Time Magazine, and Sports Illustrated.

I believe that race would be most effectively explored using this magazine series. Through pictures, readers can get a sense of the world that surrounds the featured teenager. Featured youth will come from different ethnicities and different locations within the United States. Readers will see how the teen's race affects, or does not affect, the community they live in, the way their homes are set up, the family and friend dynamic that exists, etc. and how these factors in turn influence the young persons. Most importantly, they will see that, although ethnicity makes people different, diversity is to be celebrated. The written portions of the article will allow the student to explain in more depth how their ethnicity has shaped their life, the prejudices they face, their opinions on stereotypes, and how they have dealt with racism. Hopefully, the articles will open people's eyes to how incorrect it is to judge their peers based solely on the color of their skin.

The goal of the program is to expose youth to different issues around the country using a medium that is part of mainstream teen culture. The core of the program is its goal to reveal to the audience that there are fully human persons that face these issues every single day. Youth who are discriminated against because of their ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender, or sexual orientation are every bit as interesting, unique, and worth respecting as any kid the reader would befriend. I chose magazines as my medium because it is pervasive in teen culture. Most people would argue that television plays a bigger role in teenagers' lives. However, if you take a look at the programs that are geared towards teens, you will see that a serious reflection on issues of prejudice and discrimination have little chance of succeeding via the television. Most teenagers view the television as a break from their day to just be entertained. Also, the moving pictures captivate one's brain for a couple of minutes, but then are quickly forgotten. The written word allows for the reader to be more interactive with the piece, to be an active participant. When people open up a magazine, they expect to pick up new information. It is because of this that young readers will come with a mindset more conducive to listening and learning. Printed works can also be read at a leisurely pace and be returned to and reviewed at later times. Information is then not merely thrown at the audience; it is presented in a way that allows the reader to fully process all that is being read.

The 2008 presidential elections showed an explosion in political participation among youth in the United States. This is just the first step in a positive trend that I believe will occur in the United States. As more and more young people become socially aware, there is a greater need to create a forum where they can express themselves and learn from their peers. Young people all over America need to be engaged in social discussions to fight the racism and prejudice that is still pervasive in our society.

First Place (tie)

Gabrielle Thomas
Grade 12
The Purnell School
Pottersville, New Jersey

The media, a powerful tool when used correctly, can either inform the public or sway public opinion. Growing up in the 21st century, where the media plays a very important role in my life, I have often found myself asking, does the media give my generation a voice? I have come to the conclusion that the media does not focus enough attention on giving my generation a voice on the issues that confront them, prominently prejudice and discrimination. An example, is the issue of the Jena 6. Yes, some media channels covered the story for a week or so, but very few media outlets let the voice of the young people affected by the incident be heard. Instead of hearing from the high school students that attended Jena High School, we heard from the teachers, parents and figures such as Rev. Al Sharpton, but not the students that had to walk the halls and deal with the racial inequality every day.

Young people are left to believe that the media does not value their opinion because they are not seen as analytical thinkers but only as consumers. When topics of great concern to young people are being discussed the media does not ask for their opinion, instead young people find themselves being silenced and their views pushed to the side. Young people are left to believe that society does not value the opinion of its younger generation, even though it is this generation that seems to be growing up more culturally aware and accepting of people's differences. If there is not an attempt to sell a product, programs are geared towards an older generation, and my generation's voice is not heard. This raises a big concern because it continues the practice of silencing young people's voices. If young people are not discussing the latest adds for UGGS, IPods or other merchandise, the media feels as though it has failed in its goal. When media outlets actually stop and take notice, they report that young people came out in record numbers showing a level of concern that did not seem to be there before, but they fail to realize that the level of concern they are taking notice of has always been there. An example of this is the reports of how young people came out in record breaking numbers for the 2008 Presidential election; what was not reported, however, was the number of young people who volunteered and played a role in the elections.

According to Internet World Stats (, the Internet has become a major part of young people's lives. The Internet can provide a bridge to connect people of many different states and countries, as well as bridging the gap between cultural differences. Therefore, I believe that the Internet is the best medium to provide a platform for the challenges that young people face on matters of race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. The Internet allows for a global connection to be made, and it also allows for the voice of each person to be heard through comments, blogs, or video chats. It is the best outlet because it does something that all other mediums can not do, and that is let the young generation's voice be heard without the approval of editors or public sponsors. It is also very inexpensive to launch a site.

If I could create a program to address the issue of race it would be a website entitled, "" Website optimization ( shows that everyone does not have the privilege of having Internet access in their homes, but public libraries could then be used so that they could have access. The purpose of this website would bring an end to racial discrimination and prejudice by providing an outlet for young people's questions and concerns about race. The group would first start as a Facebook and Myspace group so that interest among young people can be raised and, once we have built a strong network with representation of all geographical locations over the world, I would then launch its own personal website. The base for the website will be in New Jersey with a group high school and college students as the administrators, but there will also be a representative from each state or country working to make sure that the site can be read in all languages as well as reporting the news that is going on in their countries. On the website, viewers will be able to click on different tabs that will take them to either articles, blogs, comments, or videos. For example, Jena 6 could be a topic discussed giving my generation a chance to speak out against the injustice that took place.

The only way to bring about acceptance of different people is by first understanding what exactly those differences are. By developing a place for young people to go and discuss these differences, they are then provided the opportunity to discover that there are more things that unite us as a people than what separates us. The program will try and achieve its goals of bringing about acceptance and unity by broadcasting weekly videos hosted by young people and with appearances made by young people to address issues brought up by its viewers. The fact that the Internet allows for so many media to be combined makes it the best option because it appeals to all through written word, pictures, audio, and video. would not exclude some groups of young people but rather unite them because they would have quick and easy ways to have their voices heard.

Third Place

Amanda Low
Grade 11
Interlochen Arts Academy
Interlochen, Michigan

"The media's the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses."
- Malcolm X

Every day, we are bombarded by advertisements on the television, billboards, radio, newspapers, magazines, and the internet; in fact all forms of media. We are told what is cool, how we should dress, speak, what movies to watch, which books to read. In the recently concluded U.S. Presidential elections, thousands were glued to the television and scanned the newspapers and tabloids avidly for the next juicy tidbit unearthed on one of the presidential hopefuls. Certainly the media plays one of the biggest roles; some might even go as far as to claim more so than parents and teachers in molding the thoughts and beliefs of our young people.

The media is not the gold standard for truth. What sells matters most. Sensationalism and gossip sell, but not truth. Stories in the newspapers, magazines, and now the internet leave indelible imprints on the minds of the young and impressionable.

In fact, the media is responsible for many commonly perceived notions about young people because of the weight given to crimes committed by the young (for its sensational effect) and the intentional or unintentional highlighting of the perpetrators' race, national origin or perhaps religious affiliation.

The extent to which the media publicizes crimes committed by young people has contributed to many popularly held beliefs and stereotypes; for example, that certain minorities are more likely to commit crimes, and teens hanging out in large groups at malls, complete with piercings or tattoos, are a potential menace. On July 27, 2004, the murder of a fourteen-year-old British school boy by a sixteen-year-old student made headlines around the world. On November 20, 2008, the Daily Mail Reporter ran a huge article detailing the murder of an Asian man by "vicious and dangerous young thugs." Rarely do we see the media devote large sections to the treatment of the issues of prejudice and discrimination faced by young people today. In a survey led by Brunel University's Mike Wayne involving 2130 news items across main television channels during May 2006, it was concluded that 82 percent of the 286 stories featuring young people focused on young people involved in crime. Hardly any stories featured ordinary young people airing their opinions on issues like the discrimination that they might face at school or at work, their concerns on employment, health, and their struggle to find their identity in today's increasingly complicated world. Indeed it is glaringly obvious that young people do not have a voice in traditional media.

Myriad issues like race, gender, religion and sexual orientation continue to plague today's young people, Race related prejudice and discrimination is a universal issue.

Every country, no matter how homogenous, has immigrants and minorities. Singapore, like the United States, is home to many different races: mainly Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians. Similarly, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, African-Americans, Caucasians all call the United States home. Therefore, race is one of the biggest challenges and obstacles to one living peaceably with one's neighbors. Throughout history, countries have been torn apart by unrest and riots relating to racial tensions. For example, in Singapore in the 1960s, riots arose from clashes between the Chinese and Malays over a minor incident. Several people were killed and hundreds injured.

The media has a moral responsibility as the "voice of the people." One of its purposes should be to promote understanding by giving unbiased knowledge and allowing communication. We fear what we do not know or understand. This gives rise to prejudice, leading subsequently to discrimination.

Among the various forms of media, the internet will be the best medium for the purpose of providing an effective platform to address the issues that face today's young. Traditional forms of media like newspapers have declined in readership over the years. Figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulation in October 2008 placed the decline in sales of the major U.S. newspapers at almost 5 percent compared to figures from the previous year, while it is estimated that 85 percent or more of college students use Facebook. Time spent by teens on the internet far outweighs time spent on the television, newspapers and magazines combined.

The proposed program's goals will be to give unprejudiced knowledge, allow misconceptions to be corrected; doubts, fears and experiences to be shared in a nonthreatening environment. Finally, opportunities for one to experience the world of another race can be made available.

To achieve all this, first, experts in the fields of racial diversity, counselors and psychologists need to be involved. A survey among young people in schools and colleges regarding which areas in the issue of race trouble them most will enable a topic list to be compiled. These topics can be aired as podcasts followed by discussion via an official biog. The respective experts must be willing to continue to entertain questions in the following weeks. Each participating person will therefore have a voice in expressing his doubts and fears, to share experience and knowledge, and, in appropriate instances, to correct existing misconceptions expressed by others.

Next, a program similar to Second Life can be created. This will be a three dimensional virtual world, designed to allow members a total immersion experience involving living the culture, traditions, and even using the language (via a translation program such as Google Translator) of someone of another race. Hopefully, a better understanding of the unique place someone of another race has in this world can be attained.

The power of the internet is such that news reaches millions in seconds—something not possible in the past. This power must be harnessed for the benefit of our young people, for they are the future leaders of our world. If racial prejudice and discrimination can be diminished, a giant step towards peaceful coexistence will have been taken.

Read the High School Honorable Mention Essays

Middle School Division

First Place

Christiane Lee
Grade 7
Vernon Center Middle School
Vernon, Connecticut

There is no doubt that many shows now on television are reality shows. It's also true that many of these shows contain stereotypes. I, and many others, enjoy watching these shows, but we have to be aware of what lessons they're teaching.

One of the currently popular shows is called Ten Years Younger. I can see how people are fascinated by it. After all, the show describes transformations like in the fairy tales "Cinderella" and "The Ugly Duckling". One day you look dumpy and plain, and then you are changed into a beautiful creature. Another very popular show, Little People, Big World, gives a more realistic view. Watching this show, we realize that people who do not look "perfect"can lead good lives.

I believe that the show Ten Years Younger promote stereotypes. First, let's discuss the gist of the show. The show has a "Glam Team" whose job it is to choose people off the street who are badly dressed or look worn-out and then put them into a big glass box on the sidewalk. Random people passing by stare at them. Then the passersby guess the person's age to be quite a few years older than their real age. The person is told how old they look. Then it's time for the "Glam Team" to be a "fairy godmother" by providing new clothes, make-up, dental work, and a hair style. At the end, the person goes back in the glass box--now the passersby guess them to be about "ten years younger".

From my point of view, this show is a bad influence and I don't recommend it. Americans are already too concerned with their body image rather than with being healthy. We think the computer-enhanced people we see in ads really look like that. Two thirds of US consumers feel that the pressure to look good is greater now than it has ever been in the past. Sixty-four percent of American consumers say that they spend ridiculously huge amounts of money on personal grooming and cosmetics as it makes them feel better about themselves. But, are they really making their bodies and minds better? More young people are becoming bulimic and anorexic because of the pressure to be thin and "pretty". Watching make-overs is fun, but this show makes me feel bad for the "boxed"people who think that they are not good enough. What happens to them in real life, after the show?

On the other hand, Little People, Big World is a good example of a show that is changing people's narrow-minded thoughts about those with disabilities. The family portrayed in the show, the Roloffs, teaches us that people with dwarfism can live normal lives.

The Roloff family has three family members with dwarfism and three without. There are over two hundred types of dwarfism. Matt, the dad, has Diastrophic Dysplasia. One in every five hundred thousand births have Diastrophic Dysplasia. Amy, a mom of four, and son Jeremy, have a type called Achondroplasia. Achondroplasia affects about one in every twenty five thousand people. The other two sons, Zach and Jake, and their daughter, Molly, are all average size.

The Roloffs live as normally as possible. They own a thirty-four acre farm in Oregon. The cars and farm equipment have extended pedals so they can reach them. There is a strap on the door of the minivan so that they can close it. In the house, the cabinets and sinks are built to be accessible. The whole point is for all the family members to be independent and self-sufficient. Jeremy is on a soccer team, Matt and Amy travel the country speaking publicly, the kids have lots of friends, both little and average, and the family is very active in sports.

I enjoy this show. It is interesting to see how the Roloffs overcome day- to-day challenges. The parents, although little, are just as strict and annoying as mine! They tell the kids to put stuff away, do homework, and not eat in their room. I recommend this show because of what the show stands for--trying to demonstrate that people are all the same in their hearts. As Matt and Amy Roloff say, "One thing we wish people would understand is that we can do anything average height people can do, just in a different way."

In conclusion, many reality shows are fun to watch, but we have to be selective. If you're going to watch them, stay away from shows that have poisonous stereotypes and make people feel worse about themselves. Focus on shows that give inspirational lessons and useful information.

Second Place

Sindhura Devineni
Grade 8
West Hills Middle School
West Bloomfield, Michigan

Can you imagine how you would feel if you were shamed for marrying the one you loved? In the United States, many people oppose interracial marriages. Is it not true we were all born equal humans? Color or background should not and does not affect our fate. The popular reality television show, Jon and Kate Plus 8, promotes interracial marriages in a pleasant way; viewers can get used to the fact that these types of marriages are becoming more and more common. Therefore, Jon and Kate Plus 8 is working to open people's eyes and allow them to accept interracial marriage.

The way a person looks shouldn't affect your view of them. Many interracial marriages include children with distinct features from each race. Often times, people view this as "bad", but this is almost like viewing America as negative. The children are a mix, just like America, but it makes us just as strong as any other country and in no way brings us down. If anything, they should be proud and embrace their two different cultures! The children on Jon and Kate Plus 8 are multiracial with multiracial features, but no one on the show makes a deal of it or really mentions it at all. Viewers watching the show may notice this and realize that others seem to have no problem with it, so why are they? By taking no notice of the appearances of their eight children, Jon and Kate Plus 8 sends viewers the message that multiracial children are just like anyone else.

Jon and Kate Plus 8 also makes a statement by using the Gosselin family as the focus of the show. Sure, they could have picked any family with as many kids; there are plenty out there. By choosing them, it shows that they're no more than average, besides the hectic situations that may occur. After all, most reality television shows try to make the show relate to the average person or family. Even if they're different in the sense that they have 10 family members, they're still apart of America's melting pot and fit in with each other. If every puzzle piece were the same, we'd never finish it and find the surprise at the end; in the same way, we need different people and people to embrace it. Having the Gosselin family as the stars of Jon and Kate Plus 8 shows that they're just another family, regardless of race.

I feel that Jon and Kate Plus 8 is a show which conveys an important message: anything is possible, and what's common isn't necessarily the best. Jon and Kate were in no way forced to be married, they were married because they wanted to. It goes to show that if you really want to, you can do what you feel is right and know that you're accepted. Although many families consist of the same race/heritage, multiracial families aren't necessarily "bad". What's right may not always be accepted, but if everyone can come together to help remove that mask, we can feel good about almost anything. Jon and Kate Plus 8 is one of the shows that is helping to create change by promoting deviation from the norm and following your own path. I would definitely recommend people watch this show, because it really portrays a typical American family, regardless of exterior features. This show is truly helping our society because it's one of the few out there that helps lessen stereotypes and embraces following your own path.

There are so few reality shows out there that really make a positive impact on society today. They usually feature what they come to believe as "humorous twists" on modern stereotypes, but the popular reality television show Jon and Kate Plus 8 has proven to be different by working to open people's eyes. Multiracial families aren't as different as any other family and shouldn't be singled out or pointed at. If we continue picking at every little thing and finding fault one way or another, there will be nothing left that is truly good! Jon and Kate Plus 8 is a terrific show in the sense that it tones down the negative opinions of interracial marriages being "strange" or "bad". Although they aren't very common, they are happening, and the show proves that they, like many other couples, love each other just the same as anyone else. Jon and Kate Plus 8, although indirectly, is helping today's society open up and accept others.

Read the Middle School Honorable Mention Essays