Student Truth Sheds Light in 2022 Voices Competition

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Screen shot from a video entry by Abdulrazaq Dabdoub, telling of his family’s experience of the Syrian civil war.

“I hope that everyone can see the immense, destructive impact of racial hate.”

“Our dreams were honesty, freedom, justice…”

“I was told sexism is over. That is a lie.”

Amidst a pandemic of falsity and division, students from across the WVXU listening area and beyond bore witness to truth in the Democracy & Me 2022 Student Voices Competition. With an impressive range of essays, poetry, visual artwork and more—100 entries in all—these 8th– to 12th-graders confronted false narratives with their own lived experiences.

Turpin High School junior Ryoma “Rio” Platt earned $1,000 for his piece describing how anti-Asian hate during the pandemic played out on a family trip to Kroger: “I believe that the true pandemic is not Covid itself, but the misinformation which has caused a plethora of avoidable problems, including preventing the pandemic from spreading in the first place.”

Meanwhile, Audrey Zelinski of Mariemont H.S. floored the judges with her passionate spoken-word piece listing the myriad ways sexism still prevails over the lives of women and girls. “Maybe I can say I’m desensitized, but I’m also sexualized,” Zelinski chants, pointing to school dress codes that burden female bodies with the weight of male objectification and gender-based violence. “If these rules are there to protect me, why not teach the boys to respect me?”

In his powerful video entry, Aiken H.S. senior Abdulrazaq Dabdoub combined stock news footage of the ongoing Syrian civil war, an apocalyptic soundtrack, and selfie narration recalling the horrific events of 2011, when the city of his childhood erupted with government oppression, mass protests, and bloodshed: “I was eight years old at the time. I used to go with my Dad to the demonstrations and sing for freedom and justice,” Abdulrazaq says—until the Syrian authorities cracked down. “The words of the people were confronted by weapons of the army that was supposed to protect us, not kill us.”

Ruby Kolik of SCPA wrote about her rowing team’s comeback after the COVID-19 shutdown.

This was the fourth year for the contest, sponsored by the Charles H. Dater Foundation. In addition to the top scholarship awards determined by Cincinnati Public Radio staff, board members and community partners, members of the Democracy & Me Student Advisory Board had their own $500 Peer Prize to hand out—and for writer Ruby Kolik, of the School for Creative and Performing Arts, that honor had special meaning. Her essay told an upbeat story of her rowing team’s determination to keep pulling together during the pandemic.

“I think a lot of kids our age are just bombarded by all the negativity, all the hard and horrible things that are happening,” Ruby told contest coordinator Julie Coppens, who called with news of her Peer Prize win. “I wanted to offer something positive… to show that good things are happening.”

A selection of outstanding entries are linked in this post; audio versions will be featured in an upcoming episode of the “Democracy & Z” student podcast.

“It was exciting to see the creativity and diversity among the entries in this year’s Student Voices competition,” said Jenell Walton, Vice President of Content for Cincinnati Public Radio. “Our young people have so much to say about the world in which they live, and I’m proud that our Democracy & Me program provides this outlet, and that the Dater Foundation will help support their continuing education.”

Here are this year’s honorees; click on the name to access the piece:

Ryoma “Rio” Platt (Top Essay $1,000), Turpin High School

Audrey Zelinski (Top Creative Entry $1,000), Mariemont High School

Abdulrazaq Dabdoub (Runner-Up $500), Aiken New Tech High School

Ruby Kolik (Peer Prize, $500), Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts

These twelve students also received high marks from the judges:

Milton Hernandez Gramajo, Aiken H.S.

Audrey Williams, Turpin H.S.

Abigail Adams, Turpin H.S.

Andres Vargas, Aiken H.S. (English/Spanish text of lyrics here)

Radharani Duque Burbano, Aiken H.S.

Ysabella Anders, Talawanda H.S.

Lilly Chenoweth, Talawanda H.S.

Nora Rode, Talawanda H.S.

Claire Buirley, School for Creative and Performing Arts

Zada Ward, School for Creative and Performing Arts

Rimel Kamran, Summit Country Day School

Emma Feldmeier, Wyoming H.S.

Screen shot from a video memoir by Milton Hernandez Gramajo, which received high marks from the judges

In addition, Talawanda H.S. educator Caroline Morrow won our random $500 prize drawing, for resources to support her teaching. Talawanda H.S., Turpin, Aiken and SCPA were schools with especially strong participation in the contest this year, and we’re grateful to all those educators for their support.

Judges for the competition were WVXU staffers Jenell Walton, Tana Weingartner, Jolene Almendarez, Becca Costello, Cory Sharber, and Lucy May; the Hon. Michael Newman, board member of Cincinnati Public Radio; Streetvibes editor Gabriela Godinez; Fourthwall Youth Studios director Frank O’Farrell; Kimberly Bolden, poetry programs coordinator at Elementz; and Democracy & Z podcast lead AJ Jones.

And here, for the record, was the 2022 contest prompt:

Nearly all Americans consider the spread of misinformation a problem in our country. We can’t stop the flood of falsity, but we can shore up the walls of truth… starting with our own truth.

For this year’s contest, we want you to tell us a true story. Share a piece of your own life experience that might shed some light in these dark, confused times. Contradict a false narrative you’ve seen in the media, or lift up something real that’s perhaps been overlooked. Show us what we’re missing, big or small, through your own most reliable lens. Bear witness.

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