2021 Essay Contest Winners

1st Place: 7th-8th Grade

Tod V., Christ Little Rock

My Vision for a More Peaceful Arkansas

Peace is a very important thing and I think every state should have it. Peace to me is everyone getting along and no one is fighting or arguing. Peace is a very good thing to have in a state because it makes the state more calm and it is easier to make important decisions for the state.

Arkansas faces a lot of difficult challenges and needs to fix them. Some examples are equitable education opportunities and job support and security. One reason that we need to fix equitable education opportunities is so that teenagers coming out of high school have more opportunities for education. The government could give kids that aren’t headed for college money so that they could go to a trade school. We need to change job support and job security because if people have jobs and money, the crime rate will go down because they will be able to support themselves and their family.

When we fix our problems such as equitable education opportunities and job support and security, crime rate will go down and it will be more peaceful. This would happen because people would have a good job and money to support their family. A few things that would happen if Arkansas became more peaceful is the economy would be better because stores would be less worried about getting robbed and they will stay open longer. Another thing that would happen is less homeless people because they would have a good education and job support. In the future hopefully we can work together to make a more peaceful Arkansas through more affordable education and job security.

I think it’s very important for the community and myself to put in work to make Arkansas more peaceful. I would make a website that has direct access to all local trade schools. Also this website could have grants and scholarships available for these schools. I would also start a Go Fund Me and when people donate all the money would go to underprivileged high school seniors to use for school. Another thing I would do is provide classes for homeless people so they can get a job. These are the things that I would do to make Arkansas more peaceful.

If we did these things that I have stated Arkansas will be on its way to becoming more peaceful. Arkansas really needs to find ways to provide more affordable education for young adults. With this education they will be able to find better jobs to support themselves and their family. All of these things will hopefully lead to a more peaceful Arkansas. I truly believe that this can happen.

1st Place: 7th-8th Grade

Hunter W., Homeschool

Arkansas Peace Essay

There are many problems in our state today. But, with enough work, many of these problems can be solved. This essay is about what these problems are, how my generation can help solve them, and what it would look like in ten years.

Firstly, our state struggles severely with crime rates. According to usnews.com, our state ranks #47th in public safety. http://www.prisonpolicy.org states, “At least 45,000 different people are booked into local jails each year in Arkansas.” Between the years of 2001 and 2010, Arkansas death rates were %50 higher than the national average, and was ranked 9th highest of any state in the country due to gun violence. So, how can we fix this? We could solve these problems by running more extensive background checks when purchasing guns, and by putting a higher focus on our police force. We can also put a higher focus on churches and religious services for inmates. If we work on even just one of these, we could have a safer Arkansas in just ten years.

Second, homelessness is a big problem in Arkansas. According to a report done by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an estimated 2,366 people are experiencing homelessness in Arkansas as of January 2020. Arkansas has improved greatly in homelessness rates, with a %13 percent decrease in homelessness in 2020, according to the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report. However, we can decrease this number more, if we make a few changes. For example, we could build more homeless shelters, allowing the homeless to worry less on where they will sleep that night, and therefore be able to put more effort into a job. One way my generation could help is by donating to local homeless shelters, and by volunteering at them. If we volunteered and donated to shelters more, and spent more money on shelters, homelessness rates could reduce greatly within the next ten years.

Finally, Arkansas could use some improvement in education, another area we are severely lacking in. According to usnews.com, Arkansas ranked Forty-First in education nation-wide. It also ranked forty-seventh in educational attainment. So, how can my generation help solve this problem? We could raise money for our schools through fundraisers, donate pencils and other school supplies, and study harder, turn in assignments on time, and encourage each other to stay in school. If we could put a higher focus on our education, we could potentially help lower crime and homelessness rates. If more people graduate high school instead of dropping out, there would be more people taking jobs and buying houses, instead of stealing and being homeless. According to http://www.richmondfed.org, nearly 80 percent of criminals are high-school dropouts or recipients of the GED credential, with over half of the recipients having earned it while incarcerated.

In conclusion, if my generation would help solve these problems, then Arkansas will be a better, safer, and happier place in ten years.

3rd Place: 7th-8th Grade

Wyatt S., Oak Park Academy

A New Class

If you had to picture our state ten years from now what would it look like? In my future I would have the image of empty prisons, no homeless or starving people, and drug addictions being a thing of the past. For this to be possible I feel that it is essential to start a new class in grade school, junior high, and high school. This class will help students learn not only the importance of not doing drugs but also using their own time to build and take care of the community by helping to build homes, community gardens, food banks, and little free libraries.

This class is essential to our future because it will teach young minds to not judge others and how they can help their community. It will teach them how they can help the community and individuals that struggle from drug addiction, poverty, and other life issues. Like other classes it teaches them about not doing drugs and how to help the community, but unlike other classes it also will take them into the field where they get to apply what they have learned in class to the real world. So instead of teaching how to help we are letting them help. The class allows students to apply their knowledge because in a classroom you can endure endless lectures but it will never really stick if you aren’t applying and using it. What do you think would help the community more by learning how to help or actually going out and helping? It has also been proven that hands-on learning is more effective when it comes to students grasping what they are taught.

If this class is successful students will learn and do the following things. They will learn about the importance of not doing drugs and that they shouldn’t be pressured or pressure others to do drugs and will also help in the rehabilitation of people that have suffered from drug addictions. Students can learn about the importance of little free libraries, food banks, community homes, and other public things that help our community.They will also participate in the building and maintenance of these structures around their town or city. If these prove to be successful it will have a huge impact on the rates of homeless and starving people along with crimes committed due to drug addictions by creating more family like connections in the community.

Students that attend this class will learn how they can help the community while also building kindness, caring, and empathetic in themselves. The more we grow with those morals and use them to help the community it will allow everyone to be a contributing citizen to a more peaceful and caring community. My Vision for a better city in 2031 would be a place where almost no people are on drugs and there is a home, food to eat, and books to read for all people of Arkansas.

1st Place: 9th-10th Grade

Noah M., White County Central High School

Peace in Arkansas

We all want to have peace, whether it be across the globe, within our own country, or even just within our own state of Arkansas. There are many different visions of what peace looks like. Some people see peace simply as less arguing and a less toxic culture, some see it as a society where there is very little violence, and some see peace as everyone getting along without any problems whatsoever, but what does peace really look like?

While we want to have peace, we must examine the unpeaceful culture that exists in some parts of Arkansas. It’s not uncommon for unpeaceful events to take place anywhere, but there are several places in Arkansas that have a particularly concerning problem when it comes to crime statistics. In Little Rock, shootings seem to occur almost every day and theft is quite common too. In Pine Bluff, the crime rate is rather high and places outside of Arkansas and even the US have noticed. The Independent, an online newspaper in the UK, reported on the crime rate in Pine Bluff, which has the second highest crime rate of all metropolitan areas in the US, only behind Detroit.

While our state may not ever be one-hundred percent peaceful, every person that we impact could mean one less potentially unpeaceful event. If we reach out to communities across Arkansas using our communication resources, we can work towards making our state more peaceful. Various media resources can be used to spread a message of peace, including television, radio, newspapers, social media, websites and ads. Through these means of communication, a campaign for peace could highlight the deep divisions that lie within society. The ads can display the benefits of peace, such as less violence, less crime, and a kinder, more unified state.

Finally, I would like to discuss a timeline for creating a more peaceful Arkansas. We can talk about what needs to be accomplished and how to accomplish it, but a timeline forces us to take more immediate action. A good goal to set for achieving something as sizable and complex as peace is ten years, which would mean that we should have a peaceful Arkansas by the year 2031. It’s not entirely impossible to achieve peace in Arkansas, but a reasonable amount of time is needed considering the total population is over three million and that the state has one of the highest crime rates in the nation. A deadline of 2031 for achieving peace gives time to strategize, collect information, and execute a plan.

It is imperative that we work toward a more peaceful Arkansas and that we execute our strategy in the right way. We must start by recognizing our problems, creating a strategy as to how we will achieve peace, then we must create a goal, specifically in terms of time, and then put our plan into action. While it may be a challenge unlike any other, we can work towards achieving peace in Arkansas by 2031.

2nd Place: 9th-10th Grade

Claire R., White County Central (WCC)

Making Arkansas a Productive, Peaceful Place

Division among people has been a problem in society since the beginning of time. In Arkansas we have division just like the rest of the world. Maybe it’s separation because of politics, racial differences, or maybe it’s religious beliefs. Regardless of what the differences may be, there’s always some form of division. Making a more peaceful Arkansas will be a hard task, but these differences can make us so much stronger if we band together.

Racial, gender, and ethnicity differences are what make us who we are. I think that it is good to be able to see everything from all sides. Generation Z, I think, is one of the most accepting generations in history. We don’t care what the color of your skin is, we don’t care what you identify as, and we’re very accepting of all different kinds of people. I think that this is an amazing trait that more people need to learn how to do. People need to love more, argue less. People need to see more diversity in friendships, relationships, and things of that nature to really see that we are all equal.

In Arkansas, as of 2016, we had the seventh highest poverty rate in the nation at 17.2% of Arkansas living in poverty. Poverty now is something that usually continues from generation to generation, however if we improve our education by giving people the tools they need to succeed in life, we would most likely see a drastic change in our poverty rate throughout the years to come. In Arkansas, women have a two percent higher poverty rate than men. Wonder why? They’re getting cheated out of almost two thousand dollars a year. That’s bills, groceries, payments, gifts, and so many other things that women don’t get because of that 79.5 cent difference between the two pay rates.

If we improved the education system in the ways I stated earlier, we would also greatly improve our level of education we get. The state of Arkansas is forty first in the nation for education. A main reason stated in all of the articles I’ve read about poverty in Arkansas is all education related. If citizens had more skills, and knew how to get higher education, or just know how to do a job well our poverty rate would lower quite a bit. I think we should also educate ourselves on mental health. I think we should make therapy more cost free and offer it to anyone and everyone. Mental healthcare is frowned upon by many, and I will never understand why. If we all get stuff off our chest, or get mental peace with someone or something, how could we not be a more peaceful state?

In conclusion, these changes would make Arkansas a much better place. We would have healthier, productive citizens who are lowering the poverty rate as the years go by! This would be a state of happiness, and equality. Doesn’t that sound peaceful to you?

3rd Place: 9th-10th Grade

Dani H., Bentonville West High School

Future Peace Lies in the Teachers of Today

In recent years, our social climate has become much more accepting. With all of our recent advancements in technology, we are at a point in history where it is possible to create a connected, harmonious world. Due to the activism of today, the idyllic image of a peaceful world has become more reachable than ever before. How does society get there? The easiest way is through an accessible and affordable education that better addresses our past. The best way to better ourselves is to learn from our past mistakes and address political and social conflicts.

We first have to look at what creates conflict. A large portion of strife in this world comes from alienation and separation; it comes from issues like racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, or xenophobia. Prejudice leads to higher levels of violence. If we are able to stop it before it takes root, we can ensure a nonviolent future. Our education systems must address the aforementioned issues head-on. The surefire way to eliminate harmful preconception is an all-encompassing education. Schools need to teach about the moments of history that don’t portray America in the best light. We cannot let nationalism take precedence over the importance of teaching the truth. To reconcile, we must acknowledge our past. Sweeping our mistakes under the rug will continue to reinforce a cycle of harmful beliefs that lead to conflict. If Arkansans want to reach tranquility, we must ensure that the children of today learn about the past; not in a light that blames them, but in a light that encourages them to do better.

So, how can Arkansans make steps towards a peaceful community? Emphasize school funding! Teach about history in and out of the classroom; refuse to let any part of history be swept under the rug. Start conversations about difficult topics you see on the news. Look for prejudice in your own thinking; ask yourself, “Why do I believe what I believe?”. Carefully research the views of political candidates to ensure you are voting for better education, and not an erasure of important documents from the curriculum. You have the power to change our community into being focused on learning and growing. You have the power to address bigotry when you see it, and you have the power to teach future generations to recognize it. Together, we have the power to better our communities. Every individual action counts.

Peace isn’t something that is taught from a textbook; it is something that is fostered. We need to encourage the children of today to be accepting of their peers. We need to teach the children of today to understand the origins of conflict. We need to emphasize the importance of kindness and acceptance just as much as we teach Mathematics and English. Only then will Arkansas begin to build the foundation for tranquility. As Nobel-Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

1st Place: 11th-12th Grade

Raga M., Little Rock Central Highschool

No Justice, No Peace

As we left the school building, the echoes of our state’s history lingered behind us. The violent displacement of the Native tribes in Arkansas, the segregation of young schoolchildren – they happened merely decades ago, their voices still ringing loud and clear. Still, I was beyond grateful for the peace we had achieved until today. Looking around at the kids on my school bus, I couldn’t help but cherish our diversity and connectedness.

A few hours later, we found ourselves in a part of Northeast Arkansas to stop for gas. At first, I didn’t notice the jeers and glares from the people around me, but each angry face, marked by hostility and violence, slowly materialized around me. The beauty that I witnessed just hours earlier on the bus was shattered in an instant – now it felt like the worst burden. It wasn’t only unjust – it was unpeaceful.

This is merely one example of peacelessness in Arkansas, and it was simply the threat of violence that ruined our peace. Real violence is sustained to date, and the trauma and unrest that plagued our history still lingers on in the form of hate and discrimination. In a time markedly characterized by unrest – as marginalized communities fight for their equal treatment while others unabashedly display their desire to disrupt it – peace is the ultimate goal.

My vision of a more peaceful Arkansas is one that is radically different. War is injustice, racism is injustice, anti-trans legislation is injustice– as long as these kinds of things continue to exist, we can never achieve peace, keeping us stuck in a constant struggle for freedom in which violence will always prevail. Ten years from now, I hope that we eliminate these injustices which sustain suffering and unrest. I hope that no child will ever be afraid to travel across the state they call home.

Hate and violence may continue to breed and grow, but peace is a potent force. Peace is defined in many ways; some only emphasize the lack of violence, others hope for a sense of harmony between people. I have yet to find a definition of peace that satisfies me, but I know what peace isn’t. Peace isn’t just a bit better than the horrors of our history. Peace isn’t the sustenance of injustice. Peace isn’t a compromise.

That’s why it is up to us. Each one of the kids on that bus are capable of great change, and our experiences of the world around us make us catalysts for progress and peace. Now, imagine that force extended to thousands of inspired kids across the state of Arkansas. In 2021, we are more connected than ever – using our drive for change and passion for peace to change laws, promote equality, and eliminate war and violence, we are unstoppable. Justice is the solution, and peace is the reward. A new era of peace is required to preserve humanity, and our generation will undoubtedly be the ones to achieve it.

2nd Place: 11th-12th Grade

Josie E., Little Rock Central Highschool

Destigmatizing Mental Health in Arkansas

In 1933, the CCC began to establish facilities atop Arkansas’ Mt. Nebo. In 1960, after four years of construction, my grandpa and his father built a wooden cabin directly above a natural spring, where I spent my childhood. Later in life however, I started to suffer from the roller coaster of emotions that depression and anxiety provide. Piles of clothes and trash littered the floor of my room, my GPA dropped, nightmares took monopoly of my dreams. I went through a laundry list of bad habits, all which came back to bite me and I realized I needed to find a more positive coping mechanism. What started as neighborhood walks turned into three mile hikes, and I found that watching the urban fish in drainage ditches or tramping through woods, hearing the dead leaves crunching beneath my feet, allowed me to take a deep breath.

Today, Arkansas has a significantly higher teen suicide rate than the national average, a rate that has gone up 41% since the year 2000. The utilization of Arkansas’ abundance of nature could be the key to bringing that rate down. A recent Stanford study found that people who walked in a natural area for 90 minutes decreased activity in the part of the brain associated with depression. Most of the world’s population lives in urban centers, and finding natural areas to explore could be challenging. However, Arkansas is primarily rural and has 52 state parks, not to mention hundreds of sites, such as waterfalls, caves, lakes, and natural landmarks.

Arkansas should implement a mental health program that utilizes arguably our greatest resource: nature. This would include additional field trips to state parks in schools, or a senior citizen program that immerses residents in nature more often. This initiative would also include increased outdoor workspaces and further advertisement of state parks to all demographics.

It is up to this generation to destigmatize mental illness. Younger generations have an accepting view of mental health care and are outspoken when it comes to treatment such as therapy and medication. Therefore, it would be proactive for our generation to set up an easy-access, mental health program that would benefit generations to come.

I recently began to feel myself creeping into a depressive episode, so I decided to take a trip to Mt. Nebo. As I drove up the winding roads, feeling my ears clog up the higher I went, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief. The waterfall still plummeted off of the mossy cliff face. The natural spring still burbled up fresh, cold water. The deer families, though cautious, still came close with the hope of watermelon and corn. The sun still set in the west at Sunset Point, and rose in the east at the corresponding Sunrise Point. Nature is a cycle; it’s enduring. Although life is chaotic and unpredictable, nature is constant and that can be reassuring. The key to a more peaceful Arkansas comes from within. After all, outer peace starts with inner peace.

3rd Place: 11th-12th Grade

Caroline C., Bentonville High School

On Peace

The problem with peace originates as a result of its inherent subjectivity. While one could envision a tangible and authentic future where humanity resided in serenity with others, an individual’s methods of implementing such will vary as one’s experiences define the conclusions they arrive at. Peace, however altruistic, bears the likeness of utopia– appealing, yet virtually impossible. The definition of peace, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, entails “freedom from disturbance; tranquility.” Though life might be made easier if one had little disturbance, it would consequently be made less rich as disturbance, conflicts, and trials are necessary for the growth of the human mind, body, and soul.

When asked to cast my mind into the future years of Arkansas, I do not envision a state free from disturbance. In an age of upcoming voices, disturbances are vital to the steps needed to end the aggressive severance between people, divisions that have been buried in the soil of our state and continue to threaten the harmony of life. I envision a state of rising where the current voiceless can be heard from rooftops sharing radical ideas on inclusion, racial justice, and religious freedom of all forms. I envision a state where children reach high school knowing that George Washington, while greatly admired, had slaves and never spoke against it. I envision a state where prior historical and cultural normativities pertaining to people are shifted forward into seeing a person for the individual rather than aspects of the individual. By addressing one another with sonder and empathy, each of the aforementioned issues can be solved. As the myopia of mankind is discarded and the lens in which one can view the world is widened, one can learn to not only see oneself but the Other, and in turn, perceive life on a broader spectrum. The actions noted above move strides ahead of our current state and must be taken by the present and future generations to breach the apparent void between people, not only in Arkansas but everywhere. If we, collectively, are able to shed light on the truth of our past and present, peace, or rather change, is attainable and near.

There can be no certainty upon visualizing a future Arkansas. In a time where reality can change overnight, the conviction of my words are lacking as no one could foresee the events that will come to pass. All that is left is a hope that the coldness of humanity warms and expands minds to sustain and see each other, and see that we are all small things in a megalithic universe, and that is a beautiful thing. Our existence is what we have in common. Recognizing such and recovering from past errors is essential. When asked to cast my mind into the future of Arkansas, I do not see a future without disturbances. Rather, I see a future where disruptions foster change and newfound resilience, and we will receive this. Of this, one can be sure.

3rd Place: 11th-12th Grade

Gaby N., Riverview High School

Peace Essay

Arkansas has several issues just like a lot of other places in the world, but as of right now education, climate change and budget issues seem to be the immediate problems that need to be worked on. The people of the State of Arkansas need to work together and find solutions to these problems instead of fighting about them and develop a peaceful future. We need to think about the ways that everyone can work together and contribute to the future. Maybe if we invested more into our education system and were able to teach children at a young age how to look at the world in a way that they could come up with solutions for not only the problems we have here but the planet entirely. Also if all of us would think about changing one little thing on a daily basis this could add up to a major change later in life, think about how much water we use or a way to recycle more instead of just throwing something away or even as simple as just not using as much power as you did the day before.

If everyone did these little things everyday maybe we would start seeing the changes we want, instead of saying I’ll do it later or someone else can do that. If everyone took these practices into everything we did the world would definitely be a more peaceful place.

Ten years from now I will hopefully be a nurse or in school getting my degree and moving to a different country. I want to be able to help people and try to make the world a better place. I don’t know if I’m going to get married or have kids, it just depends on how the future is. If I don’t then I’m going to adopt kids, because a lot of kids don’t have homes or the environment in which they live isn’t good, sometimes people just need a chance to show who they could be in life with the right environment and love.

People say they want peace in the world and no fighting but that isn’t how our world is made. Conflict and peace balance out our world, things won’t always be fair. A lot of things happen for a reason, to teach us a lesson and it’s our choice to learn from our mistakes so that hopefully we won’t make the same one again. A Lot has happened to me this year and last year and it wasn’t all good and I feel like I have changed a lot from the person I was, this is what molds us into the person we are and can help us shape the future. I see a lot of people that come from violence and they never truly have a role model or someone they can look up to and I want to give them hope.