The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity sponsored Kids’ Speak and Kids' Court, a statewide essay competition, convened for its second session at Hartford's State Capitol recently to continue discussion and open dialogue about human rights, hate crimes and bullying.
Kids’ Court challenged both middle and high school students by testing their knowledge and understanding of the interconnectivity of diversity and civil rights. Students were encouraged to draw upon their own personal experiences and examine the ways in which the role of diversity and civil rights in our society impacts their education as young adults.
This year’s competition topics were:
- Hate crimes in America’s schools, how can we stop the hate?
- Does healthcare disparity have an effect on public education?
- Sexual Harassment — not on our school grounds; My neighborhood: separate but equal. Is it inherently unequal?
- Do we live in a post racial America or does race still matter in education?
Kids’ Court was founded in 1993 by Cheryl A. Sharp and Rae Thiesfield, two passionate law school students in Connecticut, and after 1996 the CHRO has sponsored Kids’ Court. Since its inception Kids’ Court has been featured on Fox 61 and received a Federal HUD’s Best Practices Award in 2000 as well as inspiring and empowering our youth to open dialogue about their own rights as students.
As co-founder Cheryl Sharp states, “It is important to raise the consciousness of youth regarding civil and human rights issues in order to reduce prejudice in schools, encourage fairness and equality and reduce discriminatory bullying.” The future lies in the knowledge and passion of our youth and by creating an opportunity for students to discuss human rights and civil liberties as they relate to their daily lives, the future is surely in good hands.
Twelve semifinalists were selected out of countless student entries and were invited to the state capitol to share their personal experiences, essays, and opinions with a diverse panel of experts in human rights, civil liberties and justice. Essays covered all of the posed topics from the impact of hate crimes in our schools to sexual harassment.
Students shared both their own personal experiences, highlighting hate crimes and bullying in their schools, and posed solutions to help stop the spread of hate.
Monique McClain and second-place winner of the middle school division, discussed the power of words and importance of reaching out to others.
When asked what she learned from her role as a speaker at Kids’ Speak and Kids’ Court finalist, Monique replied, “Through the Kids’ Court competition, I learned the power of my own words, the value of standing up for what I believe in and the importance of sharing my experiences with others. I encourage anyone who is going through what I had to go through to reach out and speak out, like I did.”
Other student participants showed similar feelings and their passion to reach out and help others in their essays, answers to the judges’ questions and speeches.
Congratulations to all of the semi-finalists and the finalists. The winners of each division were:
First place: Brandon Parris, High School Inc.
Second place: Ronald Bair, Newington High
Third place: Kitson Brown, High School Inc.
First place: Avery Casasanta, Chippens Middle School in Bristol
Second place: Monique McClain, independently tutored
Third place: Nicole Cohen, Vernon Center Middle School