Black History Month Essay Contest Winners


First Place Winner: Tamera Tyner

My African-American Hero: Maya Angelou

I know that many people wonder why there is a Black History Month. They do not want to see that the history of Black Americans is distinctive from that of all Americans. Black History Month is celebrated to acknowledge people of color like Maya Angelou, individuals that have not let hard times stop them from achieving their dreams against the odds. She is known as an author, poet, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage and screen producer, director, performer, singer, and civil rights activist.

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis Missouri on April 04, 1928. She grew up in St. Louis and Stamps Arkansas. Her father, Bailey Johnson, was a Navy dietician and her mother, Vivian Johnson, was a realtor. She has one brother named Bailey. Her parents divorced when she was three years old. She and her brother went to live with her grandparents in Stamps, Arkansas. At the age of eight she was raped by her mothers' boyfriend, a life changing event. Even though this happened, and caused her to go mute for nearly six years because she thought that her telling had caused trouble, she didn't give up on her dreams which is why she is my hero. Maya Angelou thinks a teacher and family friend , Mrs. Bertha Flowers, helped her speak again by introducing her to books by Dickens, Shakespeare, Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson, as well as black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer, and Jessie Fauset.

During World War II, she attended George Washington High School, in San Francisco, and studied dance and drama on a scholarship at the California Labor School. At age sixteen she had a son she named Guy. While in San Francisco she worked as a housekeeper, a prostitute, and a dancer. Her professional name became Maya Angelou. In her later twenties, she moved to New York City to audition for different dance roles. In the sponsored Porgy and Bess, she was able to travel in Africa and Europe to perform. Upon returning to New York City, she studied dance further and performed in The Blacks.

In New York during the 1960's she became involved in the Harlem Writers Guild and also became involved in black activism. She then spent several years in Ghana as editor of the African Review. This is when she began to take her life, her activism and her writing more seriously. During her years abroad, Dr. Angelou read and studied constantly. She became fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. She returned to the United States to work with Malcolm X until his assassination. She was then asked by Dr. Martin Luther King to serve as Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to which she gladly accepted.

Maya Angelou became a national celebrity in 1970 with the publication of I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, the first volume of her autobiography, which detailed her encounters with southern racism and the rape by her mothers' boyfriend. Her works of personal narrative, poetry, journals, and film have won her unprecedented recognition, several Pulitzer Prize nominations, among other awards. Maya Angelou's works embody the African American struggle on an intimate and societal level.

She has written a television series about African Americans in America. Her career in acting is almost as long as her writing career. She has been on Broadway in the play Look Away in 1973. She directed her own play, And Still I Rise, in California in 1976. In 1977, she had a role in the television mini-series Alex Haley's Roots. For that role she received an Emmy Award nomination for best supporting actress. . In the 1990s, she worked on and acted in films such as Poetic Justice, How to make an American Quilt, and her own work, Down in the Delta. She has lectured on campuses, been a guest on many talk shows, and continues to be an extremely popular speaker.

In 1981 Maya Angelou was appointed to a lifetime position as the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies as Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Dr. Angelou has written twelve books including the best seller A Song Flung up to Heaven. She has also written numerous magazine articles earning her a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominations. . In January 1993 she became only the second poet in U.S. History to have the honor of writing and reciting original poetry at a presidential inauguration for Bill Clinton. Maya Angelou has been called "America's most visible black female autobiographer" by scholar Joanne M. Braxton.

In conclusion Maya Angelou is my hero because she never let the things that happened in her life stop her from following her dreams. She turned the bad things in her life into resources to help encourage others. Her poems and books are popular with young and old. She has inspired African American women to pursue their dreams, ambitions, and to stand strong for their beliefs, no matter the odds against them.


Second Place Winner: Rosamari Orduna

My Hero: Mae Carol Jemison

Have you ever wondered why we honor the African-American culture; better known as Black History Month? Well, we honor the African-American culture to celebrate Africans, like Mae Carol Jemison who revolutionized the world for the better and didn't let the thoughts or words of other people stop her from making sure her dream came true. Mae Carol Jemison was an extraordinary astronaut, physician, scientist, teacher, businesswomen, and a biomedical engineer. She was an audacious woman who solved conflicts with her knowledge and helped people with her prior knowledge. Mae's childhood was a little harsh, but she still worked hard. She was always eager to learn and she was a wonderful inspiration to people like me. Even though she was a child of color, she rose to be one of our most audacious African-American heroes ever!

Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17,2010, in Decatur, Alabama. Her father was Charlie Jemison, a carpenter and roofer. Her mother, Dorothy Green Jemison, she was an elementary school teacher. Mae had a sister and brother, Ada and Charles Jemison. When Mae was three years old, her family and her moved to Chicago, Illinois, so Mae and her siblings could receive a better education. From an early age, Mae expressed interest in science and space; she read books on those subjects. She was an excellent student and she loved to read like me. Mae had plenty of support in her interest in science, although there were some people who thought a career in science was not suitable for an African-American girl. Mae remembers her kindergarten teacher asking her what she wanted to be when she grows up. Mae told her she wanted to a scientist and her teacher asked, "Don't you mean a nurse?" Instead of encouraging Mae to work hard to make her dream a reality like all teachers would do she discouraged Mae. Mae later went to Chicago's Morgan High School in 1969 and entered college at the early age of sixteen in 1973; she chose to go to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Clearly, she had a strong supportive family that helped her succeed in the field of education.

In 1977, at the age of twenty, Mae Carol Jemison graduated from Stanford with a double major. She had earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts degree in African and African-American Studies. During college Mae learned how to speak Swahili, Japanese, and Russian. Mae was attracted to NASA's space shuttle program, which was opening up for women and minorities. The new policy at NASA made Mae very excited, but she thought she was still not ready to commit herself to this goal. In 1981, Mae graduated as a medical doctor from Cornell University Medical College in New York City. Then Mae did an internship at the Los Angeles County/ University of Southern California Medical Center and in July 1982, she went to work as a doctor. She was only twenty-six years old when she volunteered to serve her time to the Peace Corps; it is a United States Agency, whose main purpose is to promote world peace and friendship. The agency trains American volunteers to perform social and humanitarian service overseas. Jemison was the medical doctor for Sierra Leone in West Africa; she was one of the youngest doctors. She worked for the Peace Corps from January 1983 through July 1985. Essentially, Mae was a hard working student and she served her own personal time to help others in need.

In 1977, NASA began a major recruitment program aimed at finding new pilots, mission specialists, or non-pilots for their new shuttle flights. In October 1985, Mae decided it was time for her to apply for admission to NASA's astronaut training program. In February 1987, she was at work when she received a phone call from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. She had passed the first phase of the selection process and was invited to fly to the Johnson Space Center for medical exams and personal interviews. In early June 1987, the long-awaited phone call came; Mae was one of the fifteen astronaut applicants out of the two hundred thousand who had applied! In addition, she was the first African- American woman ever accepted into the astronaut training candidate program. She knew the astronaut-training program was going to be an extraordinary challenge for her. One of the most demanding things an astronaut must do was spend many hours in a mission simulator. A mission simulator is a model of the space shuttle. In august 1988, when Jemison finished her year of intensive training, she was now available for flight assignments.

In 1989, Jemison was assigned to the space shuttle Endeavour, which would carry Spacelab-J; it was a mission between the United States and Japan. Mae's job was to conduct life science experiments in Spacelab-J; a reusable laboratory aboard the space shuttle, Endeavour. Finally, in September 8, 1992, Mae's dream of launching off into space became a reality. Jemison and the other astronauts moved between the spacelab and the crew cabin through an eight-foot tunnel. During this space mission they had completed one hundred twenty-seven orbits of Earth, Jemison on her space flight had logged one hundred ninety hours, thirty minutes, and twenty-three seconds in space. After weeks and months, Jemison participated in parades honoring her historic flight into space. She also made guest appearances and gave speeches, citywide tribute in Chicago.

In March 1993, Jemison made a permanent decision; she decided to resign from NASA. Then she went and taught a space technology course at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Dr. Jemison lives in New Hampshire when she is teaching and in Houston, Texas by herself and her cats- Sneeze, Mac, and Little Mama. Clearly, Mae Carol Jemison's life was full of challenges, adventures, and accomplishments.

In conclusion, Mae Carol Jemison was a hero because she was an extraordinary scientist, astronaut, physician, teacher, businesswomen, and a biomedical engineer who used her knowledge to help others; she believed and thought anything is possible. She conducted many experiments; she was an extraordinary and audacious woman. She is a wonderful inspiration to others and to me. Mae never considered herself as a role model or hero, but rather as a person pursuing her own personal achievements; she has left an imprint on history. Through her story, I know I can dream and work hard to achieve in life and no one can stop you if you don't permit them to stop you from making your dream from a possible reality. Indeed, Mae Carol Jemison, is a hero to be remembered forever!


Third Place Winner: Jonathan McCowan

My Hero: Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker was born Benjamin Bannakay on November 9, 1731 near Baltimore, Maryland. He was the grandson of an Englishwoman and a freed black slave, and the son of a slave father and freed black mother. He was allowed to attend a local elementary school, where he showed a talent for mathematics and science. It was there that the schoolmaster changed the spelling of his name to Banneker.

When Banneker was twenty-one, a remarkable thing happened; he saw a patent watch. The watch belonged to a man named Josef Levi. Banneker was absolutely fascinated with the watch. He had never seen anything like it. Levi gave Banneker his watch. This watch changed his life. Banneker took the watch apart to see how it worked. He carved similar watch pieces out of wood and made a clock of his own; the first striking clock to be made completely in America. Banneker's clock was so precise it struck every hour, on the hour, for forty years. His work on the clock led him to repair watches, clocks and sundials. Banneker even helped Joseph Ellicott to build a complex clock. Banneker became close friends with the Ellicott brothers. They lent him books on astronomy and mathematics as well as instruments for observing the stars. Banneker taught himself astronomy and advanced mathematics.

Although his main occupation was as a farmer, he devoted his spare time to applied sciences, publishing an almanac (17921802) that used his astronomical and tide calculations and his weather predictions, along with proverbs, poems, and essays contributed by himself and others. This almanac was often cited by opponents of slavery as evidence of African-Americans' abilities.

Thomas Jefferson had him hired in 1791 to assist the surveyors laying out the new capital and the District of Columbia. The "Sable Astronomer" was often pointed to as proof that African Americans were not intellectually inferior to European Americans. Thomas Jefferson himself noted this in a letter to Banneker. He in turn did not shrink from urging Jefferson to abolish slavery and to adopt more progressive policies for black Americans.

Banneker died on Sunday, October 9, 1806 at the age of 74. A few small memorial traces still exist in the Ellicott City/Oella region of Maryland, where Banneker spent his entire life except for the Federal survey. It was not until the 1990s that the actual site of Banneker's home, which burned on the day of his burial, was determined.

In 1980, the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp in his honor.

I chose to write my Black History Month essay on Benjamin Banneker because just like him, I enjoy math. Reading seems to be most of the rest of the curriculum. I mean, social studies, science, and reading all require reading about the topics, and then answering questions to make sure you understood what you read. Math, however, though it involves words to explain it, is numbers. Math has its own little world. I always found that cool, and I am rather quick at it, so I always enjoy math. At times, math can be scary or competitive, but it's fun to learn math. Suddenly I see real life applications that are more significant than just homework. Math is something that is all around me.

When I grow up, I would like to be a math teacher, although adults try to discourage me and my grandma wants me to be a doctor, but that is my dream. I know Benjamin Banneker had more obstacles to face than my generation does, but if he could accomplish so much in his lifetime, then so can I. He is an inspiration to me, and perhaps I will use my knowledge in math as a gateway to serve my community and help my people. Who knows, maybe one day, I might have a postage stamp in my honor just like Benjamin Banneker .

Thank You