Style is publishing the winning art and essays from this year’s Arkansas Peace Week statewide contests for schoolchildren.
The annual essay contest challenged students with this writing prompt: “In 2022, the FBI reported that Arkansas has the nation’s 4th highest rate of violent crime. How has violence impacted you and your communities? What can be done to reduce violence in Arkansas?”
Monday, Oct. 2, the first-place winners from seventh- through ninth-graders appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (see arkansasonline.com/1002first) and the second- and third-place winners were posted online at arkansasonline.com/1002essays.
In the art contest, first- through 12th-graders were asked to consider, “What does peace mean to you? Depict a more peaceful community in your art entry.” All the winning artwork can be seen at arkansasonline.com/1002peace.
Here are the first-place essays from 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders. The newspaper has not edited these essays beyond the addition of clarifying punctuation. Look for the other winning essays at arkansasonline.com/1009more.
- 12th grade first place
- Handling Violence
- Lucy Burks
- Little Rock Central High School
When the word “violence” is brought up in conversation, images of physical altercations and aggressive behavior often come to mind. People punching, slapping, shooting, and overall acting in ways with the intention to cause bodily harm to another, or to themselves. But a different form of violence exists — one that lurks in the shadows and comes to life in verbal and mental interactions.
It’s true that violence is exceptionally present within the physical realm, but it exists just as ferociously in the cognitive realm as well. Day after day, I see anger, annoyance and frustration create these uncomfortable feelings within people, and many, not knowing how to cope or address these feelings in a productive way, release these painfully awkward and intense emotions out into the world, their lack of guidance turning them into violent remarks and hateful words.
I see these cathartic reactions occasionally when out in the public areas I visit — casual violence committed by people who live so within their own worlds that they forget the impact a verbal expression can have on someone. Most often, I see them at my high school. Walking down the crowded halls, I expect to hear some rude remarks, for many young adults and children in Arkansas have not been taught nor shown healthy and effective methods of reacting to situations that we do not plan for. Whether it be a disappointing test grade, a fellow student who bumped into you, or an unexpected rude comment made by the wrong person, violence manages to be conjured in some shape or form.
Of course, it’s easy to fall into the allure of violence when the release it promises appears to be as tasteful and satisfying as the fruit in the Garden of Eden or the interior contents of Pandora’s box. We reach out and can’t help but succumb to the presumed sweet results of violence, feeling as if we proved our point, a delusion that acts to justify our irrational aggression.
When we experience pain on the inside, we wish to inflict more pain on those on the outside. That is, we wish to do so when left defenseless against the evil attraction of violence, but luckily for us, there are ways to help. Starting with the older generations and continuing subsequently, we ought to encourage public, productive, and honest discussions. We must become in tune with how exactly we feel after different events and understand the emotions — their origin, if they’re rational, and ultimately, how to deconstruct them and build a more positive outlook if need be. In a state such as Arkansas where community matters, not just in the smaller towns but in the larger cities as well, it cannot be denied that there’s value in honoring these kinds of conversations for the livelihood of future generations who will soon replace the older ones.
We must change now so our future, which is to be inherited as new generations present, is one that can be described as only wonderful.
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- 11th grade first place
- Blanche Finzer
- Little Rock Central High School
My mother keeps our porch light on each night. When I asked her why, she explained that it was to mark our house as a haven for those who might need it. She told me the story of her older friend, Joyce, and how she, too, always kept her porch light on because it made her feel safe. Late one night, a lady appeared at her door. She had been attacked and had nowhere else to go, but when she saw the light on Joyce’s doorstep, she went there for help where she was provided safety. After that incident, she always kept her porch light on and encouraged others to do the same.
Last year, the FBI reported that Arkansas has the nation’s 4th highest violent crime rate — a significant portion happening in Little Rock, Arkansas, the state capital. I have lived in Little Rock since I was four years old, and I currently live in downtown Little Rock, near Dunbar Middle School. I’ve been in public schools my whole life, but both my parents are white, college-educated, and middle-class, so we’re not directly impacted by the violent crime that happens around us. Growing up downtown, you see a lot of stuff that people like me aren’t exposed to until much later in life, but despite this, I still love my neighborhood and my community. Everyone on my street knows each other and helps one another out; we report suspicious activities to our street group text.
Until he died last year, our neighbor, Kenneth, would ride his bike around the neighborhood on “patrol.” He would tell you all about what he’d seen and heard in exchange for an eager ear and a few bucks or a cigarette. Kenneth was the most colorful member of our community whom we all appreciated for his care. He provided a space to gossip and share news about our community that wouldn’t be in the paper or on Channel 11. His death left a hole in our community, but the tradition of looking out for one another lives on. Although a sense of community will not break systemic racism, poverty, and violence, it is a small, human step in that direction.
The systemic issues prevalent within our government keep the cycle of poverty and violence going despite individual efforts to stop it. With this, it’s always one step forward, two steps back. Thus, to reduce violence in Arkansas, I think that along with community efforts striving for safety, the government must be willing to create substantial change. By putting an equitable amount of money into schools in Black neighborhoods/historically Black schools to decrease the educational gap in Arkansas and make up for the years of segregation, as well as rehabilitation and health centers instead of over-patroling neighborhoods, we might be able to see some change. These changes would be made along with supporting places like Community Bakery, which provides equal-opportunity hiring in an area where homelessness and poverty are prevalent.
[Gallery not loading? Click here to see photos » arkansasonline.com/1002peace/]
Gallery: Arkansas Peace Week art
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- 10th grade first place
- Keep Arkansas Peaceful
- Alexandria Evans
- White Hall High School
Imagine not being able to sleep at night because all you hear is gunshots, screams, and police sirens. Every year, thousands of people are affected by violent crimes such as assault, robbery, and homicide. We must take this issue seriously and work together to find ways to prevent violence and keep our communities safe.
Violent crime has had a large impact on my community. It has led to fear, trauma, and loss for many residents. People may feel less safe in their neighborhoods, and the effects of violence can be felt long after the crime has occurred. We must work together as a community to address this issue and find ways to prevent violent crime from occurring in the future. Businesses may be less likely to invest in an area with a high crime rate, and property values may decrease.
In the town of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, there have been several murders that have caused uproar. They have mostly been youth under the age of 18 and as young as the age of 14. Last year, at Chapel Junior High School, a 15-year-old was murdered by another student. On this particular day, all of the schools including my school were put on lockdown while an investigation pinned. It was a scary moment for me because I have never been around that setting. When I plan to go to school I want to be in a safe learning environment where I don’t have to worry about criminal activity.
To reduce violence in Arkansas, we can take a different approach. This includes increasing police patrols in areas with high crime rates, supporting community programs that work to prevent crime and help vulnerable individuals, and enacting policies that make it harder for people to obtain firearms through illegal channels. By addressing the root causes of violence and implementing evidence-based solutions, we can make our communities safer and more secure. It’s also important to address the root causes of violence, such as poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse, and provide resources to help people overcome these challenges.
We must take action to prevent violent crime and create safer communities for everyone. By working together, we can provide support and resources to at-risk individuals, address the root causes of violence, and promote peace and understanding in our communities. Together, we can make a difference and build a brighter future for ourselves and future generations.
“Peace In Our Hands,” 12th grade first place, by Mahailee Martin, Western Yell County High School (Photo courtesy of Arkansas Peace Week)