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Black History Month Essay Contest Winners - 2/7/2011

Below are the winners of the Black History Month Essay Contest that asked students to name the most influential African American person in their life.

Trey, 10, Florence, New Jersey

The African American who has been the strongest role model in my life is my dad, Darrell Fisher.

For the ten years of my life he has shown me that if I work hard enough, I can do anything I want if I put my mind into it and try really hard. My dad told me that when he was growing up his family did not have a lot of money. He struggled through school but never gave up. He worked hard and graduated.

After high school by dad joined the Army National Guard, became a sergeant, and stayed in that for nine years. He helped a lot of people during that time, during bad snowstorms and floods when people's homes had filled with water-he rescued them. My dad became a police officer in 2001 so that he could continue to help people-especially kids. As a police officer my dad goes into the schools to speak to kids.

He has an adopt-a-cop class in the elementary school, a third grade class and even comes to my school to see the kids. He makes me feel very proud when I see him in my school and all of my friends run up to him to say hi to him and give him a high five. That makes me feel really good and proud to be his son and that so many other kids and adults look up to him.

My dad always tells me that with the right attitude, and if you're nice to people, they will be willing to help you. I try to keep that in mind when I am around my friends and teachers. My dad also taught me to it doesn't matter what color your skin is, we should all get along. He has told me to never give up and keep trying my best and anything is possible. He tells me don't be like him, be better than him.

With the help of my dad, I hope one day I am my dad.

Kenneth, 15, East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

President Barack Obama is our nation’s first Black President and a strong role model for African American children.

President Barack Obama presents the nation a new model of a successful black man. Now it is possible for young black men to dream of becoming president one day. President Obama is an inspiration for many African-American boys. President Obama makes young black men think and believe anything is possible. Young black men are drawn into trouble by rap stars, celebrities and sportsmen who glamorize the wrong sort of lifestyle. This is causing young black men to have low aspirations and to treat our young black women with no respect. Black boys need to be inspired by successful businessmen, lawyers and doctors to replace the gangster role models that exist today. We need to shift our focus from rap stars, sports stars and celebrities to successful businessmen, lawyers and doctors and show that these are professions that young black men can enter and do well in.

Some examples are Magic Johnson, Johnnie Cochran, Dr. Charles Richard Drew and Colin Powell. It is important for all children to see that African Americans are present, and hold leadership positions in every profession. It is necessary that African American children see people who look like them being successful in something other than sports and entertainment. I really do not take time to label myself as a follower. I just try to do what I believe is right and to develop as a good person. I must set high standards for myself. My parents have taught me that thru self-determination and self-esteem.

My parents have influenced me to step up in life and accept the challenge to achieve and prosper. I have been taught values that will provide me the strength that I need to survive in a fast-paced world. By doing this, I can stand strong. I will be able to strengthen my family, my community, my race, and my country in the future. When you work with your hands they grow larger. It is the same with your head. I will seek to acquire knowledge as well as success.

I have developed good reading habits as a young black boy. I was taught that morals are to be practiced and not just understood. Parents must invest in the children's education and parents must commit themselves to their children's academic achievement. Black males must be exposed to good study habits, and not drug use and drug selling. Black males need parents who will monitor their education. They must make sure that their children are well-loved, challenged and rewarded for learning. I regard education as the highest priority and the vehicle for progress. This must be reinforced by black parents and encouraged in black males when they are young.

Rachel, 9, Florence, New Jersey

When I was a toddler I used to visit my mom at the middle school where she works as a teacher. Each afternoon that I was there I was greeted by a warm bear hug, and a friendly smile from an African-American man named Jerry Smith. He didn’t have a glamorous job – he was the custodian- but he was the kindest man I’ve ever known.

Jerry always looked on the bright side. He didn’t let life get him down. He was an older man and he was suffering from diabetes and problems with his legs, but he wore a brave face and never complained. His smile was contagious.

Although Jerry did not make a lot of money he was very generous and enjoyed giving to others. He even sometimes left little figurines on my mom’s desk wrapped in tissue paper. These special little presents would decorate her classroom through the seasons bringing joy to everyone in the room. When he was proud of students, and sometimes me, he would surprise us with crisp two dollar bills! He went out of his way to show people that he cared.

Most importantly, Jerry was a kindhearted and thoughtful man. He put others before himself. I learned to care about people, and to treat them with kindness from the example that Jerry set. Sometimes the people in your everyday life become role models in ways that you don’t expect. He retired from working as a custodian a few years ago, but he still sends cards on Christmas and my birthday complete with a crisp two dollar bill.