Atlanta’s Ethnic Media Celebrate Teachers and Essay Winners

 Atlanta’s Ethnic Media Celebrate Teachers and Essay Winners

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Imagine an awards ceremony where everyone in the audience--winners and losers -- weeps. Okay, not everyone, but almost everyone tears up. The reason: the joy of remembering a teacher who changed their lives.

On a warm Saturday, some 75 people crowded into the meeting room of The Flat Shoals branch of the DeKalb County Library System to celebrate the winners of an essay writing contest organized by Metro Atlanta's ethnic news media called "The Teacher Who Changed My Life."

The participating news organizations had promoted the contest since early 2013 and garnered 75 entries from three categories: 14 to 18 year olds; 19 years and older, and “Teacher in Memory” for people who wanted to write about teachers in memory with whom they'd long since lost contact.

"We so rarely get a moment to recognize these heroes in our lives," said Vivian Po, the contest coordinator who runs the education beat of New America Media, the contest sponsor. "Yet each of us can remember that moment when a teacher made learning seem magical."

As attendants helped themselves to refreshments and took their seats, Tayibbah Taylor welcomed several of the finalists who had submitted their entries through Azizah Magazine, her monthly publication for Muslim women. "There are so many stories touched my heart, it was very hard to decide which one should be the winner, “ said Taylor, “ but I am happy that we are able to post on Azizah Magazine website the winning essays and to highlight these wonderful teachers and students.”

In order to highlight these essays, New America Media published a booklet that carries 31 finalists essays. ( It is also available online on NAM website . Collectively, these essays send a message everyone needs to hear – Everyday, teachers in Atlanta are changing lives.

John D. Nguyen, a teacher at Center for Pan Asian Community, leafed through the little book of finalist essays to find the one that paid tribute to him. "I never expected this, I had to come." All 100 copies of the booklet were distributed on the scene.

Crissandra Maddox Miller, an executive assistant of bank officer at Bank of Atlanta, brought her family including her husband, mother, mother-in-law, sister and four year old son to see her accept the winner award for "Teacher In Memory."

She recalled how she'd lost interest in high school, even though she'd been in a gifted program, and how embarrassing it was to be steered towards vocational training rather than advance placement classes. But Ms. Yunette Hudson, the teacher she honored in her essay, was the woman in voc-ed who taught her the meaning of the word “work.”

Emcee and veteran Atlanta journalist Stan Washington opened the program sharing his memories of his high school English teacher who arm-twisted him into working for the high school newspaper, which seemed to be only for girls.

“I would not have had the rich, rewarding experience in journalism if it was not for Judy Hughen,” Washington said. “Being a journalist has been the next best thing to being rich.”

Awards were presented to two honorable mentions and one winner in three categories, which were Teacher-In-Memory: winner: Crissandra Maddox Miller; honorable mention: Jenny Triplett, Paul Jimenez. Adult Category (19 years and above) : winner Sarah Mostafa, honorable mention: Veronica Vazquez Lopez and Yautullah Ibraheem Muhammad. Teenage Category (14-18 years old): winner Peggy Xu and teacher Mr. Neal David; honorable mention: Shawn Choi, Marie Andrea Cruzado Jeanneau.

Each awardee received a certificate with the top winners receiving a check for $500, and honorable mentions receiving a check for $100, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Southern Education Foundation.

The top winners each read their essays and the teachers beamed.

"Latin is everywhere, you just have to learn to see it," Peggy Xu, winner in the teenage category, said, while her Latin teacher, Mr. David beamed who also received a check for $500.

"I'm only an honorable mention but this is not about me, but about my teacher," said Marie Jeanneau, as she looked at her teacher Iris Mendoza and fought back tears. “I want to honor her.” Marie then told the audience about how Mendoza told her “never let being undocumented stand in your way.”

Suffering from a sore throat, Sarah Mostafa who is about to publish her first book on Muslim experience in college and a teacher herself, asked her sister to speak on her behalf -- about the white Buddhist teacher in the black Islamic school who told her “I was going to be a great writer."

The final awardee—for the Special Judge’s Award-- selected by judges for the most compelling narrative, was Bong Ho Kim, a 65 year-old pastor at a Korean church just outside Atlanta. Kim had written of his life growing up in a poor rural part of Korea right after the Korean War, and how his teacher had whipped his legs for not following his instructions but then gone on to take him to Seoul so he could enter middle school.

"Don't go back to the countryside," the teacher urged him, "and become a great person." Then the teacher went away, leaving Mr. Kim alone in a city where he knew no one. It was only years later he learned the teacher had paid for his admission into middle school.

"I followed his instructions this time, I finished school and college, and finally I came here. My teacher's name is Sae-cheon Jang,” he said.

The audience sat silent for a few seconds. A few people wiped away tears, then applause erupted.

At the end of the program many of the attendees spoke of how uplifting the program was and that type of program honoring teachers was long overdue. Others spoke about how they love the diversity of the audience.

“What is so great is that all our communities have joined together for this celebration-- it isn't just blacks with blacks, Koreans with Koreans, Muslims with Muslims," said journalist Ray Metoyer.

“The Teacher Who Changed My Life awards program is a welcome change from covering weeks of negative news surrounding the removal of members of the DeKalb County Board of Education and the indictments of administrators, principals and teachers in the Atlanta Public School cheating scandal,” remarked Mr. Washington.