2021 Winning Essays

Middle School

First Place: Untitled by Cecile Usdin, eighth grader at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, LA 

Second Place: What Did I Do? by Charlie Finger, eighth grader at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, LA 

Third Place: Spread Thin by Sophie Spera, eighth grader at Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans in New Orleans, LA 

Honorable Mentions:   

Zyquan Champagne, seventh grader at Morris Jeff Community School in New Orleans, LA 

Stamatis Gamvrogianis, eighth grader at Brother Martin in New Orleans, LA 

Amare Lewis, seventh grader at Morris Jeff Community School in New Orleans, LA 


High School

First Place: Grandmama’s Poem by Deja Robinson, eleventh grader at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts in New Orleans, LA 

Second Place: What is Love? by Alex Nelson, twelfth grader at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge in Baton Rouge, LA 

Third Place (tie): Objects of Love by Andrea Norwood, twelfth grader at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge in Baton Rouge, LA 

Third Place (tie): The Art of Anger by Essence Tarrence, eleventh grader at St. Charles Catholic High School in LaPlace, LA 



First Place: A Response to Berthe D's "Love" — A River Live Session by Jorge Abadin, student at UCLA in Los Angeles, CA

Second Place: Where's Love? by Lauren Trichell, student at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, LA

Third Place: What's Love? by Naomi Winston, student at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, LA 



First Place, Middle School


by Cecile Usdin

“What is love?” Martin F. Tupper attempts to answer this question by defining the undefinable. Tupper describes love as an all-consuming sudden passion formed deep within us that takes us by surprise. In an era of difficulties, we are surrounded by hate, little in this world do we see love; common love of our fellow man no matter class or creed appears to be fading more and more every day. The importance of love is ever so relevant when hate is so widely seen, like a flame in a cave it illuminates. Whether it be hate for people whose past is unlike yours, whose skin has more melanin, or hate for those whose love is bound by gender, we need to put down this dangerous weapon, for it will lead to our destruction.

“Love doesn’t discriminate,” Lin Manuel Miranda writes in “​Wait For It​” a song in his famous Broadway musical ​Hamilton​. We cannot let love be biased against the Black, Asian American, Latinx, people, not the republicans, democrats, or LGBTQ community; people, people are biased against people. The need for love regardless of differences is ever so important. People choose hate when love is our only defense against the evil that plagues this world. We need to let down our defenses and open our arms to others, show compassion not cruelty for others instead of putting ourselves and our own gain first. In the 21st century, our priorities have been confused: people storm the capital, let their knees kill others, and disregard the power of a gun. This negligence is unacceptable. Depression rates are up, especially in teens growing up in this un-nurturing environment where they are shown hate day after day, where they are scared to go to school, in fear of being bullied for loving someone of the same gender, and in fear of bullets littering their bodies. Lately, the presidential race has been the main source of divide in our country, pitting people against each other. However, our democracy has fought to live another day, and if we get it right; if through love we come together we can create a safe haven for tomorrow.

“We lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside” Amanda Gorman recites. Gorman talks about putting love above all else. She describes the need for our differences to be celebrated, not used as blockades against our future, and how we must look at each other as human instead of alienating those differences. In order for a future of progression, we must act in love.

New Orleans, a loud soulful city hasn’t always been a place of love. The vibrant city has a dark past of segregation and hate. Not until 1864 was slavery officially abolished. Now the city celebrates our rich history and cultural differences. Traditions that span centuries back are still upheld, such as the skull and bones krewe that marches on Mardi Gras every year. New Orleans is a place where love means love, from Southern Decadence to Essence. A city once plagued with hate is blossoming into one of love and devotion to difference.

I urge you to remember where we came from and contemplate where we are going. We must change paths if we want a better future for tomorrow’s kids. They deserve better than the pollution ridden, hate plagued earth that we call home. This is not a gift, we are not passing on a key to the great America, it is a lock on their future and we hold the code, a burden we are laying upon their shoulders weighing them down so they may not succeed. So this all-consuming burning desire mustn't be smothered, we can not stomp on the flame of love, being as unattentive to it as we are to the horrors that we let happen before our eyes. Love is free, it is invaluable so use it liberally. When you see another human in need extend yourself, if not because they struggle because they are human and that is enough. As Martin F. Tupper states love as a passion, we must hold that passion in a different light, hold it to humanity, not your reflection.




Second Place, Middle School

What Did I Do? 

by Charlie Finger


“What did I do? What have I done?”
Asked the innocent black man as an officer pulled out his gun
And after 3 quick shots to the back of the head
That innocent black man fell to the ground, dead.
There was no trial
The officer’s decision was final.
And just for the dangerous color of his skin
That black man could never call a white man his kin.
For the bigotry of those who oppress
That man’s torment would never recess.
The horrible ways this county live
Must not be accepted in the world as it is
The must be action and there must be movement
So as that we end this injustice that has become a pollutant




Third Place, Middle School

Spread Thin

by Sophie Spera

If love is the taste
That is the most sweet,
Is it sweet enough to be rotting,
Rotting right through my teeth?
If love binds the soul,
When is the rope too tight?
When I’m running out of air,
and feeling this bite.
My coal has been smothered,
my heartache too great,
If love’s a wondrous thing,
then this pain must be fake.
I tried to light a fire
A fire for me and you
But a slight slip of hand
Tore us through and through.
Douse the flame with water
Hate the sin love the sinner
Real love must be thick as blood
Because fake love spreads thinner.





First Place, High School

Grandmama’s Poem

by Deja Robinson

Such a pretty girl, so shy. I got you.
You would sing in my ear while you
used tin foil to secure the wooden beads
at the ends of my plaits.

The winter after mama left me, I would lay
in bed and converse with loneliness. For the
first time ever, I heard the screams of silence.
You told me not to be startled and let myself melt into it.

You would stroke my cheek with you thumb, secretly
hoping it would make me forget the innocence I lost
Hush child, too pretty for all that crying now.
Everything works itself out. I got you, you hear me?
And even before I became accustomed to the hue
of disappointment, you would press my head
against your bosom and have me listen to the rhythm of your
heart as you hummed along to Bill Withers.

I still remember your favorite words, ​I’m right up the road,
I’ll Share your load,
if you just call me.

It still brings me comfort, but it’s nothing without your percussion.

Now the only indication of your presence is a meer ringing
in my ear that if I listen close enough to, I can still hear you
What a pretty girl, ain’t that much shy no more. That's good,
No need to be shy no more.


Second Place, High School

What is Love?

by Alex Nelson

What is Love?
The answer: that cult classic Haddaway song
(“Baby don’t hurt me.”)
No, too short.
Ask again: a great fear of mine
Too short, but we’re getting somewhere.
Let’s try this again:
Love is
That aged fine wine:
A slush of chemicals that make magic, Revered for its spells and incantations.
But love is
Something insufferable,
Something that requires too much commitment.
Love isn’t
Something romantic or sexy or liberating.
Some say
It’s what gets your heart to start...
But really,
Wouldn’t it only make it stop?
Love is
A miracle child,
An unexpected surprise.
Love brings us back to life.
But love is
Something guilty
Something unplanned,
Something required,
Something assigned at birth.
Love is
What turns heads —
What results in longing stares
And shared warmth
In the depths of winter cold.
But love is
A shape-shifting monster.
What will it be today?
Love is
But love is
Something that only​ feels​ permanent.
Love is
What makes us human,
What makes us feel.
But love is
A fleeting illusion masked in false-advertising.
Love is
What will stand the test of time,
The only way we can map the soul.
Love is
But love is
Made from the delusion of human sentiments,
Ever so fleeting.
Love is
Someone we have never met.
But love is
Someone I don’t know if I want to meet.
Love is
Our next closest friend.
But love is
Terrifying, anonymous.
Love is
Something that might become overpowering.
Is worth being smothered for
Something that cannot last forever?
Love is
Something we both want.
Do all of those romance novels,
Chick-flick B-movies
Mean nothing?
But love is the hopeless romantic’s worst enemy.
It is what we indulge in
But never should have for ourselves.
It’s too hard
To admit to ourselves
That it isn’t really love’s fault at all.
But for now,
Let’s blame something sugar-coated,
Like love
To deny that we’re really just starved for affection.



Third Place (tie), High School

Objects of Love

by Andrea Norwood 


Love is fruit. I mean, it’s right there in the Spanish language, isn’t it? ​Media Naranja. ​Literally: “Half of an orange.” Figuratively: a concept akin to a “soulmate.” Perhaps it’s meant to be some kind of reference to someone being your “other half,” reinforcing the idea that you’re not whole unless you find a romantic relationship. But that’s stupid.

To me, a m​edia naranja ​calls to mind a half​-eaten​ orange. An orange that someone has carefully peeled, and, despite all the effort that went into the act of preparing, still chooses to give the other half to someone else. Your soulmate—or soulmates—is the person you’d give the other half of the orange to, not the other half of yourself. Because love is sharing. It’s a sacrifice that leaves you feeling better than you did before, not like you’ve lost something.

There’s love in the grapefruit I offer to my friends when they visit my house—our tree has far too many anyway. Grabbing a large paper bag and running out to our tree in the backyard, which leans over from the weight of the golden fruits it gifts us. We laugh as we reach for higher and higher fruits, as the bag becomes heavier and heavier in our hands. But the weight doesn’t bother us; it only means more love is within it. And maybe the tree loves us, too, for it so graciously offers the fruit to our reaching hands.

There’s love in the chopped apples, peeled satsumas, or sliced watermelons that my mother brings me. They come at random times, usually in the middle of some dreary homework assignment, never expected. But they bring sweet joy to whatever task I am doing, sun light in the middle of dark clouds of math equations. It’s just a fruit, and yet there’s so much more contained within it.

Perhaps that’s why we give flowers to our significant others—they’re the reason we have fruit, after all. Perhaps we want the relationship to sprout like a fruit, into something we can both share. An orange for us both to peel and eat together. And in the peeling and the sharing and the eating, perhaps we are also peeling away and sharing our deepest feelings in a manner so different from the words we are so used to sharing.

Of course, we can’t see love with our own eyes in this world. But perhaps there are vessels that can carry it—rings, flowers, chocolates. And fruit, storing the goodwill and sacrifice and caring of others all within its peel that we so eagerly uncover.




Third Place (tie), High School

The Art of Anger 

by Essence Tarrence 


Dear “Scoundrel,”

I wonder if you are delighted in Heaven that much has not changed centuries ahead. I wonder if you are applauding the multiple, unjustifiable murders of my black sisters and brothers. The system learned early to cheat us out of our rights. I wonder if you are proud of the part you played in that? Or are you ashamed of the cruel treatment you subjected to others? Most of all I wonder what would have been your response if that negro man had not offered you the amount of grace that he had. What if he allowed himself to be angry at his circumstances?

Through remnants of slavery, it was engrained early on to accept the bare minimum given to us. It has trickled down through centuries of generations. You fought for a system that kidnapped people from their homelands, brutally forced them to work, and then put laws in place when they fought for their freedom through a war to prove they would always be less than. Black people have been through so much for this country, but we are never allowed to just let our anger consume us. I have heard the phrase,” Others are lucky that black people simply want equality and not revenge,” and that is the most frustrating but true statement ever. When we constantly ask for something as easy as to be treated equally and it still repeatedly ignored, it is hard to keep a smile on our faces and continue to push forward. We are taught to push it aside because “we will be proving white people right.” You let your anger lead you through life, why can’t we?

You both were laying on your death beds, but you still found a way to be foul. However, that “simple negro” gave you grace in his last moments. He had every right to be angry, and nobody can dispute it. As you can tell playing into respectability politics has gotten us nowhere. No matter what we will always be black. Whether we put on a doctor’s coat or are walking down the street in our hoodies. The first thing seen is our melanated skin. The system may not have changed, but I guarantee you a lot of our mindsets have.

People like to use the, “we all are humans,” excuse, but it absolves others from accountability. To say you and the sickly black man were equals, in the end, is insulting. Black trauma is always used as a stepping stone for someone else’s character development. We see it today when people argue for Confederate leaders to keep their statues or when little black girls get teased for wearing their natural afro to school. We notice it when people slightly switch their tone to speak to us. Those are all remnants of the years of discrimination. It may not be done consciously, but that does not help the person it negatively affected. People may change over time; however, we never forget those subtleties. It can be a phase for you, and you may have repented to God, but I could never forgive the damage you have done. I have learned over the years, “Yes, I am allowed to be angry.”

I do not have to accept the bare minimum of others simply not being racist and have learned to see how they are actively speaking up against it. I have learned to stop being scared of being labeled a “social justice warrior” or the “angry black girl” for seeking equal treatment. I have learned it is fine to be unsatisfied with the given circumstances. I have learned to not bite my tongue in fear of feeding into a stereotype. If someone’s automatic response to my anger against racism is racism, they were never going to respect me anyway. I have learned my anger does not equal hatred but a need for change.

A Fed Up Negro




First Place, College

A Response to Berthe D's "Love" — A River Live Session 

by Jorge Abadin


What’s love?
Love is doing whatcha wanna, tuba on the loose brass pass,
Warm air of southern nights, whispers bayou to grass.
The Champ longhair doctor, slow me down with their keys,
That lightnin’ red stick blues, lonesome slim king of bees.
Love is
A crystal reed shining, a closer walk with thee,
A Domino effect, brought rock across the sea.
Sounds of the one-eyed prince, Maharajah soul,
Smells of jasmine perfume, creole jazz that did Roll.
Love is
Ragtime bones Congo Square, fresh and hot Rose Nicaud,
The myths of one Coupee, cissy struttin’ mosquito.
Abrazo cubano, ak yon bèl dans dife,
When they call us wild, that’s just Choctaw filé.
Love is
Strictly no capicia, the jungle book did tell,
A Puppeteer’s art show, an organ raises hell.
Pa’lante when you’re down, muddy waters won’t hurt,
Time that is on our side, a soul that will convert.
Love is
Sky so blue cloud so white, believe the cornet dream,
Red beans and ricely yours, a smile now mainstream.
A French Quarter trombone, flying away with blues,
A dancing resting place, for a ramblin’ man’s booze.
Love is
A moon that outshines sun, Maple drips Rebirth band,
God’s celestial shore, living in gloryland.
Feeling my lovely home, watch a steamboat joyride,
Hearing all of these sounds, down by the riverside.


Second Place, College

Where's Love? 

by Lauren Trichell


Her thumb presses down the top button of the remote.
In front of her eyes, the news of the world flickers in a quote.
One channel describes a shooting that took place that very day.
The next speaks of a racial war happening not far away.
She stops and thinks about just how bad our world has become.
Why can’t we end the hatred? A feeling that has made us numb.
The corruption has caused our planet to become gloomy and amiss.
We must stop and ask ourselves, where is love in a world like this?
She pauses for a second and makes an effort to think of anything good.
There has to be love in a universe that’s so misunderstood.
She turns to window and sees the bright and shining sun.
Some birds chirp loudly as they fly away. They’re out on the day’s run.
A neighbor smiles, and children outside cheer and scream with laughter.
She glances back at the TV screen and sees there’s no more disaster.
A girl is pictured speaking up for what she knows is right.
A kind man fixes a problem by giving up his seat on a flight.
She begins to ponder that maybe our crushed planet Earth isn’t so bad.
The phone then rings. She looks down and sees it’s a call from her dad.
They speak of good times that they had with family and with friends.
They talk about their favorite song and their most beloved trends.
A trip to the zoo is brought up, and they start to reminisce.
They discuss the animals and nature in all of its beauty and its bliss.
She hangs up the phone just as her nose is filled with a scent.
It’s her favorite food she’s cooking. The one that makes her content.
In the kitchen she finds a bag that’s from her good friend named Michael.
It’s filled with plastic bottles and newspaper which she saves to recycle.
She knows that fixing the planet begins with her words and actions.
It starts with a motive to overcome the disheartening distractions.
If it’s still not apparent and the question remains, where’s love in our world?
There’s love all around us. You have to find it. It’s just waiting to be unfurled.


Third Place, College 

What's Love? 

by Naomi Winston


What’s Love?
Love is compared to candy, to the tase on a tongue.
Love is compared to the soul, in the way that it seems to be everlasting.
I have searched for the meaning of love.
I have sought the burning fire that they call love.
Looked and searched for the glow of the hidden, burning coal.
Why is something that is so intimate become so intimidating?
Love kidnaps you.
That is the reality of love.
It takes control of your being without asking for permission.
To be kidnapped and entrapped in the remnants of a faint kiss.
To be caught up in your net of deep desire.
Love does not ask permission, it kidnaps my heart.
It takes me hostage.
Love is not sweet like the rain.
Love is not calming like the sunset.
Love is powerful and it claims me as its next victim.
Love does not bind my soul to another.
Love takes my soul and presents it as a sacrifice.
It is through this sacrifice that I give the most intimate part of myself.
It is through this sacrifice that I am both lost and found.
Love is not the glow of burning coal,
Love is the blaze of an internal fire in the pit of my heart.