District Attorney’s Office honors student writers in essay contest to fight youth violence

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County District Attorney's Office honored middle school children, who say they have felt the impacts of the violence and may have solutions.

Finalists in the annual anti-violence essay contest "Do The Write Thing Challenge" in Shelby County attended the banquet at Hope Church in Cordova Thursday night.

District Attorney General Amy Weirich read a selection of essays from the two winners, Ridgeway Middle School student Christopher Brunt and Oakhaven Middle School student Toriyell Howard.

"I choose not only to prevent youth violence by choosing to respond with words," Weirich read from Brunt's essay.

In the essay, the eighth grade student reflected on a night he'll never forget.

"It was an event that happened at the corn maze. I was with my sister and a couple of friends when we suddenly heard gunshots," he said.

Brunt and his siblings were okay, but he'll always have the memory of what happened.

He's not alone; Nancy Guandique, 15, said a stray bullet hit her best friend while he was sleeping in his bed.

He didn’t survive.

"Adults, most importantly, should be engaged in their children's lives. Ask them, 'How are you doing?' Most of the time, we don't really like talking about it, but we want someone to be there for us," she said.

Nancy wrote an essay about the experience and she won the 'Do The Write Thing' challenge two years ago.

The victory included a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet other kids who’d also written about violence in their communities.

"You're not the only one who goes through this. You hear some things and you're like, 'Oh my God.' There has to be something done," Guandique said.

Her younger sister Silvia was also up for the award Thursday.

In all, 30 student writers from Shelby County middle schools made the finals.

The two finalists, Christopher and Toriyell, will go to Washington D.C. this summer and the Library of Congress will archive their essays.

Weirich said she’s counting on them as the future leaders of Memphis.

"What they are already zeroing in on is exactly what the problem is. It comes from kids being bullied and victimized themselves. So everything we can do to reduce the number of children exposed to violence is going to reduce the violence down the road for future generations," Weirich said.