As ambassadors, McKenzie Leaks and Jared Rawlings will travel to Washington, D.C., this summer with a parent and a teacher to participate in the DTWT Challenge National Recognition Ceremony.
Leaks is an 8th grade student at Ridgeway Middle School. Rawlings is an 8th grade student at Colonial Middle School. Their essays will be filed in the Library of Congress.
More than 2,000 essays were submitted by students from 16 schools that participate in the DA’s Every DAy in School program (formerly known as the Truancy Reduction Mentoring Program) which places advocates from the DA’s office in those schools to work with the staff to monitor school attendance.
The DA’s Office organized a committee of community, business and public officials to read the essays written by 6th, 7th and 8th grade students.
“You are representing your schools, your teachers and your families, and we are so, so proud of you,” Gen. Weirich told the students.
The keynote speaker 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.
“It’s not what happens to you that defines you,” he said. “It’s how you respond to it. I made a choice to not feel sorry for myself. Don’t let circumstances dictate your future. You dictate who you are.”
The DTWT Challenge is an initiative of the National Campaign to Stop the Violence, a non-profit, non-partisan organization made up of community, business and government leaders with the common goal of reducing youth violence.
The national DTWT is sponsored by the Kuwait-America Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1991 to strengthen ties between the two countries.
Megan Pietrowski, director of community affairs for the DA’s office and emcee for the banquet, said local sponsors of the DTWT include Hope Presbyterian Church, Nucor Memphis Community Outreach and Southwest Airlines.
The essays by McKenzie Leaks and Jared Rawlings will be published Sunday by The Commercial Appeal and The Daily Memphian.