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

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. –  To quote author Neil Postman, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” During the 2022 Realizing the Dream Essay and Art Contest Reception on March 24, those “living messages” were on display for the Tuscaloosa community in the form of winning students’ essays and artwork in the Cadence Bank Gallery at Shelton State Community College.

“When you think about that, and you get a chance to look at the artwork or read the essays and you see what these young people are thinking and what the world looks like to them, we ought to be encouraged about the living messages that we’re putting through that time,” said Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs at UA. “Thank you for inspiring us.”

Through their creativity, students from across the state showcased how they interpreted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy to build a better tomorrow, as Zena Terry, one of the essay category winners described in the video shown during the reception.

“To me, Realizing the Dream means to able to showcase your talent, while reflecting on what you have done in your community that has exemplified what MLK dreamed of,” Terry said in the video.

“My artwork represents a dove spreading love across the globe to create a peaceful world for everyone,” echoed Aeesha Mulani, one of the artwork winners, in the video.

This year marked the first in-person reception for the contest, which was formally added to the Realizing the Dream celebration after its creation in 2021. Statewide middle and high school students were provided rubrics and asked to submit a 500-word essay or artwork reflecting the 2022 theme, “Realizing the Dream Through Kindness and Respect for Others.” Judges consisted of faculty and staff from UA, Shelton State and Stillman College.

Out of 43 artwork submissions, 10 students were chosen as the winners:

  • Ella Bryan, 6th-grader at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School
  • Jada Childs, 8th-grader at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School
  • Cody Merrymon, 7th-grader at Duncanville Middle School
  • Aeesha Mulani, 6th-grader at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School
  • Samantha Tolbert, 8th-grader at Thomasville Middle School
  • Paulina Liston Carrera, 12th-grader at Hillcrest High School
  • Savannah Dockery, 10th-grader at Sipsey Valley High School
  • Meredith Pearson, 11th-grader at Paul W. Bryant High School
  • Jacqueline Perez, 11th-grader at Paul W. Bryant High School
  • Serenity Thomas, 12th-grader at Thompson High School

From 141 essay submissions, 10 students were selected:

  • Henry Duke, 7th-grader at Phillips Preparatory Middle School
  • Madison Lee, 6th-grader at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School
  • Tim Li, 8th-grader at Phillips Preparatory Middle School
  • Sariah Hossain, 8th-grader at Phillips Preparatory Middle School
  • Madelynn Nguyen, 7th-grader at Phillips Preparatory Middle School
  • Jailyn Burnside, 10th-grader at Hillcrest High School
  • Briana Hanks, 12th-grader at Paul W. Bryant High School
  • Hannah Jackson, 11th-grader at Central High School
  • Kaci Lollar, 11th-grader at Berry High School
  • Zena Terry, 11th-grader at Ramsay High School

Each winner received a Chromebook, and their respective schools will receive up to $1,000 in the form of reimbursement for educational resources and/or programming to support this work.

Dozens gathered to view the winning submissions, pose for pictures and munch on hors d’oeuvres before the program began at 6:00 p.m. in the Alabama Power Recital Hall. Dr. Lane McLelland, director of the UA Crossroads Civic Engagement Center, delivered the opening remarks. Then, the audience heard from winners in their own words during a brief video presentation before winners were recognized. Carson Grubaugh, instructor of visual arts at Shelton State and one of the artwork judges, announced the artwork winners. Serena Blount, instructor of English at UA and one of the essay judges, announced the essay winners. Pruitt provided the closing remarks.

The next event in the Realizing the Dream celebration is a lecture featuring journalist and author Wil Haygood and George W. Stewart’s play, “King and the 1300,” on Monday, April 4, at Shelton State. The lecture will begin at 4:00 p.m., with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by the play at 6:00 p.m.