It's been a while since I was moved to tears at a reading, but on Thursday, May 29, 2014, three Ballou Story Project authors brought me there. These three writers--M.H. Jordan, Christopher Allen, and Gerald McBrayer--were being celebrated at the awards ceremony for the Global Harmony Through Personal Excellence essay competition, a citywide contest for DCPS students that called for essays about daily acts of courage. Because our forthcoming collection, How to Grow Up Like Me, contains plenty of courage, we submitted these writers' pieces, and some weeks later found ourselves celebrating in the auditorium of the historic Charles Sumner School in downtown Washington with writers from across the city.
I was excited for these writers, but had no idea how excited I should be! We were greeted by a packed house, a camera crew, and a moving ceremony full of powerful stories of loyalty, integrity, and determination. All Honorable Mention winners, including Christopher and Gerald, had excerpts of their work read aloud, and the mounting examples of personal conviction left the crowd inspired. Finalists were asked to read their entire essay on-stage, including M.H. Jordan, whose essay won 3rd place overall in the city for grades 7-9. M.H. had written a heartfelt and vulnerable piece about broken promises and real longing for stability and connection. When she finished, with self-determination and self-love, she moved the crowd to their feet (and this writer to very proud tears.) Journalist Cokie Roberts, one of this year's judges, chose to write M.H. a personal note because she was so moved by her piece and encouraged her to keep writing. (Yes! Yes!)
The excitement didn't end on-stage -- when the writers returned to their seats with their winners' packets they were amazed to discover letters from an incredible array of supporters:
DC Mayor Vincent Gray and DC Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton,
Players and managers from the Nationals, the Redskins, and the Wizards,
Poet and Activist Nikki Giovanni,
Former Vice President Al Gore,
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu, and
First Lady Michelle Obama !!!
Wow! What a group of fans! And to top it all off, winners took home cash prizes: Honorable Mention winners netted $100 each, and M.H. Jordan earned $225. Writing pays! Powerful story-telling pays. Courage pays. Seriously.
We could not be more proud of these writers, and of all of our authors for courageously putting themselves on the page.
I think I'm tearing up again. :-)