Deadline extended: Pinellas high schoolers invited to participate in arts and writing contests

Students’ entry forms must be submitted by Feb. 15, and artwork or essay submission by March 30. 

BY NICOLE SLAUGHTER GRAHAM, Staff Writer

PINELLAS COUNTY — This year Pinellas Remembers, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), and the Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Foundation are providing two exciting opportunities for Pinellas County High School students to participate in the arts.

These contests— one writing and one art — allow students to explore this year’s contest theme: “The History of Racial Inequities in Our Community and Country,” through creative mediums.

The application deadline is Monday, Feb. 15.

Pinellas Remembers and EJI have been working closely together on the racial terror lynching memorial of James Evans, an African-American man living in Pinellas County who was lynched on Nov. 12, 1914. The memorial is slated for unveiling soon.

The essay contest is provided through EJI to all communities across the country who work with them on remembrance initiatives like the lynching memorial.

“EJI chooses the topics, sets the rules, and provides the prize money,” Gwendolyn Reese, who co-chairs Pinellas Remembers with Jacqueline Hubbard.

This year, EJI will divvy up $5000 in prize money for essays submitted and chosen as contest winners. Prizes will range from $500 to $1500.

Reese said she wanted to expand on the opportunity provided by EJI.

“I’ve always wanted to have some sort of art contest for students,” she said, emphasizing the importance of art within a community framework. “We have some very artistic students in the area, and I want them to have the opportunity to explore this year’s theme through whatever medium they choose.”

Hearing about the lynching memorial and essay contest, Rays Foundation Executive Director Stephen Thomas reached out to Pinellas Remembers to learn more.

“Stephen was really taken by the lynching memorial and the essay contest and wanted to get involved,” Reese said.

The Rays Foundation provided a $10,000 grant to expand on the contest opportunity for students. The grant will fund the arts portion of the contest.

“He was really pleased at the thought of offering monies to local students in this way,” Reese said.

As far as the arts are concerned, Reese and fellow Outreach and Education Committee members wanted to make the contest as inclusive of all mediums and as familiar as possible for students.

They worked with the Pinellas County School board on submission requirements and categories. Students will have the opportunity to submit works of art through 13 different mediums, including drawing, dance, spoken word, performance, sculpture and mixed media.

The overarching theme for both the essay and the arts contest is the same, Reese said, and she’s hoping local students will choose to explore local topics of racial inequity. Local topics chosen by Pinellas Remembers include the Courageous 12, desegregation of Pinellas County Schools, and the notorious green benches.

Reese said she also hopes for a high turnout of students from all backgrounds, especially African-American students.

“Opportunities aren’t there for Black children the same as they are for other children,” she said. We all know there’s a lack of opportunity.”

Lack of access, not knowing where to find the information, and advertisement that typically leaves out African-American students are why more Black students don’t participate in the contests available to them, Reese explained.

This year’s topic, especially though, she said, is essential for African-American students to understand.

“This is our history, and it’s a history that they don’t know. This contest is so different from many other contests,” Reese said. “This one directly relates to events that are a part of our story. Some are brutal. Some are painful. And as I always say, our stories are messy, complicated, and beautiful and they must be told.”

She continued, “Being a part of this contest gives them the opportunity to explore and really understand our local history. They’ll truly get to know the topic of their choosing, and hopefully it will inspire the students to learn more.”

Pinellas Remembers is working with local arts-centric organizations to ensure the pieces submitted—both art and writing submissions—will have a larger place within the St. Petersburg community.

“We want the larger community to be able to enjoy the works of the students. Art is meant to be experienced and enjoyed in a public setting,” she said.

Reese also wanted to emphasize the importance of the Feb. 15 registration date for students who desire to participate in the March competition.

“Students are not a part of the competition unless they complete that registration form.”

Registration is also important because the Pinellas Remembers Outreach and Education Committee plans on providing a wealth of information and assistance to all students who decide to compete.

“We’re wanting to provide as much assistance for the students as we can give them. We will provide links to articles, videos, and other educational materials on the events that serve as the local categories. Eckerd College has a team that will work with students who submit essays.”

She also said each registrant would receive a 2021 EJI calendar, which features photos aligned with the racial justice theme. A recording of the unveiling of the lynching memorial will also be provided.

General contest information:

  • Entry Form Deadline: Feb. 15
  • Art/Essay Submission Deadline: Mar. 30
  • Essay Guidelines
  • Art Guidelines
  • Multiple prizes of $250, $1000, and $1500 will be awarded to the winners.

For more contest information, visit the Pinellas Remembrance website and the EJI website.

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