Fifteen students have been chosen as winners of 100 Black Men of Atlanta’s Art, Poetry, and Essay contest centered on curbing gun violence.

The students, from B.E.S.T. Academy and Frederick Douglass High School, were separated into two divisions, with the ninth and 10th grade competing against each other, and the 11th and 12th grade competing against each other. The three categories were art, poem and essay, and a first, second, and third place winner in each category. The first place walked away with $500, the second won $300, and the third place took home $100.

The Art, Poetry, and Essay contest is part of an effort launched last year by the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, the Anti-Gun Violence Project. The Anti-Gun Violence Project focuses on creating anti-violence messaging and programs to identify and prevent conflict and violence in the African American community. The project is a relaunch of a successful program put on by 100 Black Men of Atlanta in the 1990s and will pick up where it left off to wage a campaign to reduce gun violence in Atlanta.

Joshua Byrd, committee chair for the Anti-Gun Violence Committee of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, said the group felt compelled to do something about gun violence.

“We, the 100 Black Men of Atlanta exist to enhance the lives of African-American youth, especially those who live in the inner-cities, by serving as mentors; providing exposure and opportunities to improve their health and wellness, economic well-being and educational advancement,” he said. “However, none of this will occur if we allow violence — especially gun violence — to spread and fester. The devastating toll that gun violence is taking on our community compels us to act.”

The Anti-Gun Violence Project received a $15,000 grant from Georgia Power to implement a mentoring program for students. The program will feature different modules that will focus on how to reduce gun violence, create awareness, and offer alternative solutions that students can use for violence prevention.

100 Black Men of Atlanta met with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice to hear directly from young people who have been involved in gun related crimes to learn about ways to best connect with young adults. Byrd said the creative outlets were recommended, as they provide students with a way to express their feelings, a chance to be heard and being open and honest about their feelings.

“When sharing their work at the contest last week, several students broke down crying, and they expressed how embarking upon their work in producing their final pieces, was therapeutic, it provided a new perspective, and it reminded them of just how serious the problem of gun violence is,” Byrd said. “Many of them had close relatives and friends who had been impacted by gun violence, so competing in the contest also gave them another way to handle and express their grief.”

This year’s contest winners include:

Ninth and Tenth Grade Art Winners:

♦ Iisha Barco, Frederick Douglass High School

♦ Shannon Brown, B.E.S.T. Academy

Ninth and Tenth Grade Poem Winners:

♦ Rihana Williams, Frederick Douglass High School

♦ Amir Robinson, B.E.S.T. Academy

♦ Bruce Smith, B.E.S.T. Academy

Ninth and Tenth Grade Essay Winners:

♦ Courtney Hardeman, Frederick Douglass High School

♦ Joseph Daniels, B.E.S.T. Academy

♦ Christian Harris, Frederick Douglass High School

Eleventh and Twelfth Grade Art Winners:

♦ DeAnthony Hammond, B.E.S.T. Academy

♦ Iphill Boyd, Frederick Douglass High School

♦ Jaydon Aldridge, B.E.S.T. Academy

Eleventh and Twelfth Grade Poem Winners:

♦ JaQuawn McKelvey-Fludd, B.E.S.T. Academy

♦ Briyanna Brown, Frederick Douglass High School

♦ Ana Alvear, Frederick Douglass High School

Eleventh and Twelfth Grade Essay Winner:

♦ DeCarlos McKinney, B.E.S.T. Academy

“Since our goal is to change the gun culture in Atlanta, the most aspirational hope is that the students will continue creating and sharing their art and personal stories with others,” Byrd said. “It would be great if they continued creating art and literary works to encourage others to stop using guns as a means to resolve personal differences and disputes. We also hope they learned that sharing their story can have a powerful impact on others. Their art, poetry or essay could be the reason someone decides not to pick up a gun to resolve personal conflicts.”

For more information on 100 Black Men of Atlanta, visit 100blackmen-atlanta.org.

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