LB’s Second Annual Black History Month Writing Contest Winners And Essays

Zora Neale Hurston (Photo Courtesy of

February is over and the judging for the annual Black History Month Essay Contest has wrapped up.

This year’s contest called for students to examine Zora Neale Hurston’s essay “How it Feels To Be Colored Me” and showcase their understanding of the piece by correlating it to the #BlackGirlMagic movement in 350 to 500 words. Katura Joling won first place, Jasmin Pulido won second, and Joshua Stickrod won third.

1st Place: Katura Joling

The ideology behind #BlackGirlMagic has been an inspiration to many black girls and women everywhere, celebrating their achievements, perseverance, and resilience. Achievements such as being on the cover of a company’s magazine authentically yourself. No whitewashed you, no straight haired you, just authentically you. Celebrating perseverance in how they fight the stigma that only a certain shade of color is the beautiful one, and resilience in the many denials they face before coming to an acceptance. This is the #BlackGirlMagic that I have witnessed portrayed by many black girls and women in the entertainment industry.

Women like Lupita Nyong’o who was on the cover of a magazine but her natural, curly hair was photoshopped out of the final product, losing a piece of herself that was supposed to be portrayed. Halle Berry, Beyonce, Rihanna, and many more who have been whitewashed on covers because their skin color doesn’t fit the “beauty standard” that the industry has created. Why did it begin, when people like Zora Neale Hurston have said, “But I am not tragically coloured. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes.” (How it Feels to be Colored Me) There was no “standard” for her, she saw beauty, period.

The perseverance, as seen by Hurston, says to this though, “It is thrilling to think–to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame.” #BlackGirlMagic brings that “twice as much praise” to the black women, because they understand the “twice as much blame” they received to get where they are now. Having these women celebrated by #BlackGirlMagic, goes beyond black women, and shows black girls, teenagers, women in the making, that the industry has set beauty standards, however there are women who fight against these lies and in the end are stronger because of it.

Resilience can be portrayed through Hurston saying, “The terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave said “On the line!” The Reconstruction said “Get set!” and the generation before said “Go!” I am off to a flying start and I must not halt in the stretch to look behind and weep.” That is the resilience still found in #BlackGirlMagic and all of the women who have been empowered by it; for they do not see the standard and turn away. They see a standard and use it to spark their #BlackGirlMagic and celebrate.

2nd Place: Jasmin Pulido

Woman are doubted to be successful, It’s disappointing to be underestimated. I have got the opportunity to get to know a couple women who’ve become very successful. These women all have something in common and it’s called self love. They are strong, ambitious and are rare. Don’t forget to mention dangerous as well. In a world of technology being all around us constantly we start to fall in the trap of comparison. Which can turn lethal to the mental health. Woman don’t realize it, but what we got is power and it starts within yourself.

In the essay “How It Feels to Be Me” written by Zora Neale Hurston, she talks about herself as a woman on how she doesn’t separate herself from the pigmentation of her skin or how others see her as. She lives her life the way she wants to, because she believes she had something worth to offer. She enjoys people company and some enjoyed hers. She walks the streets with confidence not worrying about who will come in and discriminate her.

Growing up from a little girl to a young woman is challenging. We deal with our own insecurities and mental development. There is no doubt that the lord had put these type of influential woman in my life. There is a purpose and that is to something that he has stored for me down the road. I have learned something new from each woman in my life. My mother taught me to be independent by watching her work, cook, clean and enroll her children in school. My sister in law plays a role as my sister and making sure I respect myself and overcome my challenges. These two woman will always be in my life.

There is one woman particular that has really helped me understand who I am and has believed in me the moment I stepped in her classroom. She demonstrates courage. The best part about her is she will ignite your starlight and make you forget your stagefright. She brightens up the room with her voice, but don’t mistaken her for her height. She fights for what she believes in. I look up to woman like her and I admire her success. You DR. Ramycia McGhee are my sister and I inspire myself to be a leader and a boss like you. I value your love you give as a human being. You have exposed me to #BlackGirlMagic and the demeanor of the movement.

I got a long road to go because this is only the beginning of my journey.  You have made your mark with me that i could never forget. You are more than a teacher to me you are my mentor, and my classroom mother. I Jasmin Pulido, will do my best to work on building other woman up like you have done for me.

3rd Place: Joshua Stickrod

As human beings, we have an inherent need to label, define, and categorize just about everything. It’s an innate reaction to external stimuli that stems from our species’ development in nature. To ancient humans, life and death depended on the labels they created— the familiar was safe, while the different had the potential to be fatal. This dichotomous way of thinking has carried over into our modern psychology and when you analyze it through a sociological context, labels have become divisive. They’ve created otherness, delusions of supremacy, and us vs. them mentalities that have fueled oppression and social stratification throughout history. And in the U.S., a country with horrific roots tied to slavery, genocide, xenophobia, and sexism, we see these divisions still influencing our modern zeitgeist.

While writing for the Commuter a year ago, I got an opportunity to cover an event at the DAC titled “The Beauty of My Black Hair.” It was a presentation that explained the significance of women of color embracing and celebrating their natural hair. During the event, the presenter described how, due to social pressure, some women of color feel forced to use potentially harmful chemicals to straighten their hair in order to be deemed ‘more professional’ by white standards. Perhaps this is an apt microcosm of the systemic racism this country is still suffering from. Media is oversaturated with advertisements, TV shows, and movies positing narrow conceptions of beauty for their predominantly white audiences. It’s here where I’m forced to wonder: how is anyone supposed to feel valued or accepted in a system that continuously labels and ostracizes their culture?

But that’s the amazing thing about #BlackGirlmagic, it’s a movement that refuses to let beauty be defined by a dominant culture or allow labels to determine how women of color should feel about themselves. Instead, it opts to create its own definitions through celebrating the power of difference.

In her 1928 essay titled “How It Feels To Be Colored Me,” author Zora Neale Hurston talks about her refusal to let systemic oppression obscure how she sees herself, writing: “But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all.” It’s this self-empowering introspection that defines #BlackGirlMagic. Hurston finds joy and purpose in herself and her accomplishments despite the level of discrimination directed towards her.

It’s to that end that I feel like we can all learn something from #BlackGirlMagic. That it doesn’t matter what the crowd screams, or cries, or commands you to do; just be you. Be proud of who you are, embrace your differences, and celebrate them. Because that’s what makes you who you are. #BlackGirlMagic is defiance in the face of injustice and no matter how hard people try to label it, there is no categorizing it, no defining it, no controlling it, it is, quite simply, magic.

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