Do the Write Thing: Students Share Powerful Experiences with Youth Violence

Group shot of the 2023 Do The Write Thing Winners and Speakers

Left to Right: Alex Pyun, Mecklenburg County Community Support Services; Dr. Crystal Hill, CMS Interim Superintendent; Aaliyah Williams-Camp, Eastway Middle; Michael Tadi, Coulwood STEM; Dena J King, U.S. Attorney; Sherie Pearsall, former Deputy Chief, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

Two Mecklenburg County students have the chance to visit Washington, D.C. to represent the County and their peers during Do the Write Thing National Recognition Week.

During its awards ceremony on May 8, Michael Ndomateso Tadi from Coulwood STEM and Aaliyah Williams-Camp from Eastway Middle were announced the winners of the annual Do the Write Thing writing contest. An initiative of the National Campaign to Stop Violence, Do the Write Thing is a writing program for middle school students that positions them as community catalysts as they examine the root causes and impact of youth violence.

As National Ambassadors of Mecklenburg County, Michael and Aaliyah, a parent or guardian, and a teacher are invited to Washington for an all-expenses-paid trip in July. They will see their works placed in the Library of Congress, learn more about the nation’s capital and view national landmarks, and attend the national “Do the Write Thing” recognition dinner.

Do the Write Thing is a partnership between Mecklenburg County Community Support Services’ Prevention and Intervention Services division and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. The program is targeted to middle school students because they are old enough to have experience that is shaping their lives, yet not too old to be stuck in detrimental patterns. 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 Tadi 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.’

Students from 30 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools submitted 1,023 essays this year. For the contest, 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. The entries address the following topics: 

  • How has youth violence affected my life?

  • What are the causes of youth violence?

  • What can I do about youth violence?

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…”

Photos from this year’s ceremony can be viewed here. Partners in Do the Write Thing include Communities in Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and Right Moves for Youth.