The 13th annual DTWT recognition ceremony at Hope Presbyterian Church at 8500 Walnut Grove Road in Cordova included two finalists from each of the 15 participating Shelby County Schools, and the students’ families, teachers and principals.
Toriyell Howard from Oakhaven Middle School and Christopher Brunt from Ridgeway Middle School were named this year’s two ambassadors for their winning essays. They will travel to Washington, D.C., in July with a parent and a teacher for the DTWT Challenge National Recognition Week.
Their essays will be archived in the national Library of Congress. Both were published in today’s edition of The Commercial Appeal.
“I want to add that you are all winners here tonight,” Gen. Weirich told the students. “It should be noted that we are here the day after the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose lifelong message was anti-violence.”
Among those in attendance Thursday was Lisa Cone of Washington, D.C., director of program expansion for the National Campaign to Stop Violence of which DTWT is a part. She noted that many of the student essays are based on personal experience with violence and that students nationwide have been speaking on issues such as gun violence in schools.
“I applaud your courage,” she said. “I encourage you to continue to speak up and speak out.”
This year more than 1,600 essays were submitted for DTWT, a national initiative that aims to break the cycle of violence in homes, schools and neighborhoods. The students’ essays address the impact of youth violence on the students’ lives and what should be done to change the culture of violence.
The keynote speaker at the banquet was Fletcher Cleaves, a former football player at Lambuth University who was injured in a car accident in 2009 and was paralyzed from the chest down. He has become a motivational speaker while earning a degree in computer science.
“I chose not to give up,” Fletcher told the students. “Don’t let anyone else dictate who you are. You are the author of your own story. The only thing you can’t do is what you think you can’t do. If the sky’s the limit, why are there footprints on the moon?”
Sponsors of the DTWT include Hope Presbyterian Church, the Grizzlies Foundation, the Kuwait-America Foundation, Nucor Memphis Community Outreach and Southwest Airlines.
Megan Pietrowski, director of the DA’s Truancy Program and emcee for the banquet, promotes, coordinates and organizes the program, and seeks sponsors for the event.
She and her staff also recruit a committee of community leaders and public servants to read the essays written by the 6th, 7th and 8th grade students from participating Shelby County Schools. The committee also selects the two student ambassadors.