Black History Month essay awards

Cash awards given to student winners by Human Relations Council

Photo by Dennis Fletcher
HRC board members and several of the winning students line up after the event. Left to right: Mary Morse (President, HRC board), Nikki Leslie (Monte Vista Middle School), Mariam Mekhael (Western Center Academy), Amrik Singh (HRC board), Bailey Bryan (Bell Mountain Middle School), Aileen Luke (Western Center Academy), Gabriella Mares-Galletta (Western Center Academy), Andrea Mares (UC Riverside).

■ Dennis Fletcher / Contributed

Last week the winners of the 15th annual Black History Month Essay Contest received a most deserved acknowledgement for their accomplishments at the Mt. San Jacinto College Library on the San Jacinto Campus.
Sponsored by the Human Relations Council (HRC) of San Jacinto, Hemet and Menifee, as well as the Diversity Committee of MSJC, the contest provides an opportunity for middle school, high school and college students of nearby schools to compete in three separate classes to write an essay about a famous black American.

Photo by Dennis Fletcher
Andrea Mares, student at UC Riverside, won honorable mention at the essay contest for Black History Month produced by the Human Relations Council and the Diversity Committee of Mt. San Jacinto College.

Mary Morse, president of the local HRC, was the emcee for the awards event. She said, “Entries for the Black History Month Essay Contest were the very best quality in all our 15 years. Students from Hemet, San Jacinto, Romoland, and Menifee School Districts entered. Students were required to create an historical fiction about a person of color who was able to triumph over circumstances and prejudice to build a life of accomplishment. Our students this year raised the bar quite high for future participants.”
Following the Pledge of Allegiance, the beautiful voice of Linda Greilich of Golden Era Productions welcomed the audience, singing our National Anthem followed by “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” The latter song, also known as The Black National Anthem, was enthusiastically accompanied by the large audience filling the room.
• The five winners for the middle school level are:
• Aileen Luke, Western Center Academy – First place
• Isaiah J. Castillo, St. Hyacinth Academy – Second place
• Bailey Bryan – Bell Mountain Middle School
• Symphony Chatman, Bell Mountain Middle School – Honorable mention
• Nikki Leslie, Monte Vista Middle School – Honorable mention

High school winners:
• Gabriella Mares-Galletta, Western Center Academy – First place
• Kristina Leslie, San Jacinto High School – Second place
• Sara Oike, Western Center Academy – Honorable mention
• Mariam Mekhael, Western Center Academy – Honorable mention
• Angelina Parisi, Western Center Academy – Honorable mention

College winners:
• Jenna Robinson, MSJC – First place
• Greg Sanchez, MSJC – Second place
• Jewel Coleman, MSJC – Honorable mention
• Andrea Mares, UC Riverside – Honorable mention
• Jacob Perry, MSJC – Honorable mention

Photo by Gena Estrin
Anaya Crouch, senior and President of the Black Student Union at San Jacinto High School read her poem, Black Girl.

The first invited guest speaker was Chuck Washington, Supervisor for the Third District for the County of Riverside. Washington is a decorated military veteran and the first person of color to chair the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
Speaking to many admiring friends in the room, Washington deviated from his script and talked about his early years growing up, and how important getting an education was to him. He shared with the audience how he grew up in Mississippi during the 50’s and 60’s surrounded by deep segregation. His father, who went to an all-black college near Jackson, Mississippi, went on to study medicine at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
His father eventually moved the family to Southern California where their lives were exceptional. During these happy years in Socal, he visited his grandparents back in Mississippi where he was constantly instructed that education would be the key to his success.
After earning a BA in Business and an MA in Public Administration, Washington went to Navy flight school to become a Navy officer and aviator, and found himself jumping off a 30-meter tower, about the distance of a carrier deck from the water. All through his younger years, the message persisted get an education.
Following his tour as a Navy pilot, he joined Delta Airlines as a passenger airline pilot. “During that time, I was learning to be a role model as well as being acknowledged by black passengers for my presence on the flight deck,” shared Washington. He emphasized to all members of the audience, especially the essay contest winners, the importance of striving to serve as a role model for others.
He concluded by congratulating the HRC for their efforts to bring forth the values of Black History Month and said, “I try to do my small part as your County Supervisor to show I care about people, family, children and to serve as a good role model.”

Photo by Gena Estrin
Mayor of San Jacinto Russ Utz reads a proclamation from the San Jacinto City Council addressing accomplishments of the Human Relations Council.

The second speaker was Dr. Jordan B. Smith, Jr. He is also a decorated military veteran who distinguished himself as the first black officer to graduate from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He went on to become a highly decorated member of the United States Marine Corps.
Dr. Smith holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and works for the San Jacinto Unified School District. The city reaps the benefits of Dr. Smith’ training and accomplishments every day where he teaches math at Mountain View High School, an alternative school in San Jacinto.
He told the audience, “My education is my shield and my sword against discrimination. I can accomplish anything, sometimes with a struggle.” It’s a struggle he willingly takes on for the benefit of all around him.

Anaya Crouch, senior at San Jacinto High School, President of her school’s Black Students Union and Student Board member of the San Jacinto Unified School Board, thrilled the audience with her recitation of her own poem, Black Girl.
After the event, she said, “Celebrating black history is about acknowledging the strife that those in the past have dedicated their life to for the betterment of our future, and establishing a realization that we have made lots of progress and there will be lots more in the future for our nation and for ourselves. I strive to follow in the steps of those before me and to continue to use the tools that I am provided to make change.”
The event was produced by the local Hemet/San Jacinto/Menifee chapter of the Human Relations Council, website:, in conjunction with the MSJC Diversity Committee.

Daughters who won Best Presentation Awards, left and right, are: Andrea Mares and Gabriella Mares-Galletta. Their proud mother Teresa Mares is in the middle.

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