Zimbabwe: Essay contest commemorates Black History Month

By Yolanda Ndlovu – Harare, January 18, 2013: Zimbabwean high school students this month have an opportunity to analyze famous African American poet Langston Hughes’s poetry in an essay contest sponsored by the United States Embassy to commemorate Black History Month.

The competition asks A level (Upper Six) students to write a 500 word essay relating Hughes’ poem, “Dream Deferred”, to their lives and communities.  The poem inspired Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun.”  Participating high schools will choose two essays to submit for consideration by the deadline of February 11, 2013 to the U.S. Embassy in Harare.  The individual winners of the contest and their schools will receive prizes and certificates at a ceremony that will also include the performance of a scene from the play “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“The Embassy’s annual Black History Month essay contest not only allows youth in Zimbabwe to celebrate this important commemoration, but also gives all who participate an opportunity to think critically about the importance of African-American figures and events, and to write about how they relate to their lives here in Zimbabwe,” EducationUSA Country Coordinator Rebecca Zeigler Mano said.  The essay contest is part of a series of educational activities conducted throughout the month of February (Black History Month) by the American Embassy focusing on the history and achievements of African Americans.

The essay contest has run annually since 2009.  The 2011 winner, Julia Jenjezwa of Gokomere High School in Masvingo, went on to study at Yale University,  and last year’s winner, Sibusisiwe Mukwakwami from Mutare’s St Augustines High School, said the competition gave her recognition and confidence that helped her to enter the Embassy’s United States Students Achievers Program (USAP).

“Through the competition, I learned about USAP, and now I am applying to several top colleges and universities in America.  The competition made me realize that I am a good writer, and I am now considering a writing career as part of my future.”

USAP enables economically disadvantaged but academically gifted students to negotiate the cumbersome application process into top American universities.  Students earn scholarships from U.S. schools to pursue further studies with the aim of giving back to their Zimbabwean communities.

About 25 schools participated in last year’s essay competition based on the question, “Using inspiration from African and African-American achievers, answer this question for yourself and for Zimbabwe…. What can I do?”

Black History Month was the inspiration of Carter G. Woodson, a noted scholar and historian, who instituted Negro History Week in 1926.  He chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.  The celebration was expanded to be a month in length in 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.  At the time, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Hughes is an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry.  Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance.  His poetry and fiction portrayed the lives of working-class blacks in America — lives he portrayed as full of struggle, joy, laughter, and music.

All students interested in entering this year’s competition can find further information at http://harare.usembassy.gov