Realizing the Dream Essay and Art Contest Recognizes Students’ Creativity

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Winners of the 2023 Realizing the Dream Essay and Art Contest were recognized for sharing their interpretations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy during a reception on March 30 at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa.

Representing this year’s theme of “Realizing the Dream through Commitment and Sacrifice,” middle and high school students across Alabama submitted a 500-word essay or artwork from which judges representing the Realizing the Dream host institutions selected the winners.

The winning submissions were on display at Shelton State’s Cadence Bank Gallery where students in attendance discussed the themes of their work.

“Love is one of the biggest commitments in life … and I thought that really captured the theme,” said Rhian Scott, one of the winners in the artwork category. “What I like about the contest is that there is so much diversity that you can do within it and with the theme. It was great seeing everyone’s ideas of what they visualize it as.”

For family members, it was also a special occasion to honor their children’s creations and to support youth arts education.

“It gives my daughter Samantha ways to express herself,” said her mother, Shalaleta Washington. “We don’t have an art teacher at her school, so she gets to express herself in her drawing because she loves to draw.”

Marking the second year the committee hosted an in-person celebration to honor winners, the evening began with a reception at 5:30 p.m., before the start of the program at 6 p.m. in the Alabama Power Recital Hall. Carson Grubaugh, instructor of visual arts at Shelton State, delivered the opening remarks. Parents, teachers and community members then heard firsthand how each winner interpreted this year’s Realizing the Dream theme through their creative work in a short video. Contest judges Krislyn Koehn, art instructor at Shelton State, and Dr. Serena Blount, assistant director of undergraduate studies and senior instructor in the department of English at UA, presented the winners in each respective category.

From among 80 art submissions, the following 10 winners were selected:

  • Laila Gray, 11th-grader at Hillcrest High School
  • Jonathan Hartline, 8th-grader at Brookwood Middle School
  • Amber Jones, 8th-grader at Westlawn Middle School
  • Sari Lipscomb, 8th-grader at Westlawn Middle School
  • Colt Maxson, 6th-grader at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School
  • Aeesha Mulani, 7th-grader at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School
  • Perri Payne, 11th-grader at Paul W. Bryant High School
  • Bailey Ross, 12th-grader at Dallas County High School
  • Rhian Scott, 11th-grader at Sipsey Valley High School
  • Samantha Tolbert, 9th-grader at Thomasville High School

Out of 45 essay submissions, seven winners were chosen:

  • Jayden Dao, 9th-grader at Hillcrest High School
  • Olivia Douglas, 12th-grader at Thompson High School
  • Timothy Johnson, 8th-grader at Greensboro Middle School
  • Jordan Jones, 9th-grader at Holt High School
  • Adrienne Mboumba, 7th-grader at Huffman Middle School
  • Ben Riches, 8th-grader at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School
  • Dhruv Vashi, 8th-grader at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School

Each winner received a Chromebook, and their respective schools will receive up to $500 in the form of reimbursement for educational resources and/or programming to support this work.

“It’s incredible to have a dream, the same way that Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream,” said Dr. Nicole Prewitt, director of programs and partnerships for the Center of Community-Based Partnerships at The University of Alabama, in closing. “We were able to witness tonight these young people and their dreams and the way in which they wanted to express it through their art and essays.”

Submissions will continue to be housed virtually at