Do the Write Thing: Meck County Students Share Experiences on National Stage
Two Mecklenburg County students are back home after representing thousands of middle school students across our community in Washington, D.C. as National Ambassadors in the Do the Write Thing challenge.
Michael Ndomateso Tadi from Coulwood STEM Academy and Aaliyah Williams-Camp from Eastway Middle School are the 2023 ambassadors of the annual essay challenge where students share their personal experiences with violence and ideas for prevention. As National Ambassadors for Mecklenburg County, Aaliyah and Michael toured Washington, D.C., met with members of Congress on Capitol Hill, heard from inspiring international leaders who are working to end violence, and shared their stories with hundreds of youth and adults. Their essays will be placed in the Library of Congress.
Do the Write Thing is a program of the National Campaign to End Violence, sponsored by the Kuwait-America Foundation. This year’s theme was “Words are a Passport for Change,” expressed throughout the National Recognition Week activities. Among those activities was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Aaliyah and Michael—a dinner hosted by the Ambassador of the State of Kuwait to the U.S. at her Washington residence.
“The tools to prevent violence are a pen, a keyboard, and your voice. And beneath it all is the willingness to be vulnerable,” Ambassador Shaikha Al-Sabah Al-Zain told the student ambassadors. “You are the lights at the end of the tunnel. This is how you shift the landscape, the legislation, the logic. This is how you change the language. Until one day, you notice the healing taking place in ways you have never seen before.”
Do the Write Thing is targeted to middle school students because they are old enough to write about the experiences that are shaping their lives, and young enough to be at a prime stage for prevention. At a very vulnerable age, just when they are becoming teens, Mecklenburg County hopes to connect with them, advancing a commitment to valuing their words.
Michael wrote of the violence he experienced in his native Democratic Republic of Congo, and how the violence found him upon moving to the U.S.
I’m furious, I’m miserable, I’m scared, however people would expect me to say that right? People want to feel bad for me, I don’t want pity. I grew up in this and all I want is respect for my past. ‘You can only do better if you know better.’
For many students, it is the first time that they have expressed themselves about how violence affects them. Writing becomes a cathartic and therapeutic experience. They take a very personal and sometimes painful experience, put it on paper, and move forward. No one likes to be marginalized. These young students have experiences, thoughts, and insights that they want to share.
Aaliyah submitted a poem to persuade more teens to share their stories, in hopes of preventing suicide. It begins:
“One cut, is all it takes
When I wanted to die, that’s what I’d say
The feeling of the metal hitting my skin
Made me feel good deep down within…”
After four days sharing their stories and hearing many others’ inspiring words, Aaliyah and Michael returned home to Charlotte where they will continue to use their own words as a passport for change in their community.
Students from 30 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools submitted 1,023 essays this year. For the writing challenge, students may use any form of written expression, such as essays, poems, plays, or songs, with most entries approximately 500 to 1000 words in length. Aaliyah and Michael were announced as the National Ambassadors during a ceremony on May 8.
Partners in Do the Write Thing include Mecklenburg County Community Support Services, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of N.C., Communities in Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and Right Moves for Youth.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States by calling or texting 988.