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The Ties That Bind, Mixed Media by Sierra Callwood, Grade 11, Age 17, NSU University School, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

The Creativity & Citizenship Award, produced in partnership with the National Constitution Center and sponsored by The Maurice R. Robinson Fund, is given to students whose art or writing address a topical theme, such as technology and privacy, immigration, bullying, and freedom of expression. This year, students were asked to create work that explores the issue of “Race in America” and add their unique voice to this important conversation. Meet the three students chosen for 2016 Creativity & Citizenship Awards!

Sierra Callwood, Grade 11, Age 17, NSU University School, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

“My work embodies the conversation many people of color in America must have with their family members. It addresses discussions that often center around the loss of family history, “ties”, due to numerous historical institutions that aimed to subjugate and oppress by destroying networks of kinship essential to progression in life. Family, and the legacy it brings, often serves to bolster one through life with accumulation of shared experiences and teachings. In the United States for many people of color, and especially for black people, this network is often damaged by systemic poverty, violence, and discrimination that serve a vicious cycle which in some instances renders the network completely nonexistent. With this in mind, I reexamined my own damaged family history and compiled the many stories rooted in Tennessee, Mississippi, Chicago, and St. Thomas of injustices, personal recollections, and those who disappeared in the cross hairs to create a visual representation of that narrative.”

Leah Penn, Grade 12, Age 17, Rufus King International School, Milwaukee, WI

Divergence, Drawing & Illustration by Leah Penn, Grade 12, Age 17, Rufus King International School, Milwaukee, WI

Divergence, Drawing & Illustration by Leah Penn, Grade 12, Age 17, Rufus King International School, Milwaukee, WI

“This piece shows the interconnections between two colors, two cultures, and two patterns. It’s a simple design meant to show the similarities between people and their ability to collaborate together in harmony, regardless of race or other differences.”

Vasantha Sambamurti, Grade 12, Age 17, Charleston County School of the Arts, North Charleston, SC

Excerpt from Vasantha’s short story “Glass Falls”

Krishna had woken up at 4:30 in the morning and she resented having done so. Today was her class field trip and she really didn’t want to go. But she was twelve, and that was the age when you weren’t supposed to worry about anything. You weren’t supposed to worry about how to talk to other kids, or how to hold your sandwich when everyone watched you eat it. So she returned the permission slip.

She sat in the dry bathtub and eyed the silver faucet across from her. It should’ve been instinctual to turn the faucet on, to soak in clean water and flush the grime down the drain. But, this time, she felt all the dirt wouldn’t go. And she didn’t feel like getting up.

Abha had left her tweezers at the very edge of her dresser; an instance as good as a gift. Krishna held the appliance in her right hand, pinching it like a pair of chopsticks. She had rolled up her baggy pants to the knee, and started to uproot the dense black hair of her legs. She was unraveling a cloak.

It stung when she plucked but she knew it was supposed to. “Beauty is pain.” “No gain without pain.” Everyone said it. In thirty minutes she had cleared only a penny-sized patch of hair at the base of her knee. This should’ve felt like progress. She sank her head into her knees.

Ma never shaved in India. But they were in Asheville now.

Abha closed her eyes. She glanced momentarily at Evelyn’s hand interlaced with her own, dual tones of brown, Evelyn’s a shade richer. In that moment, sleep was the worst thing she feared.

“I hear they make fun of people who bring Van Goghs to college. Like it’s typical of misunderstood adolescents you know? They quote Morrissey the day after they listen to him.”

Abha sucked her teeth. “Edgy.”

“Right, right.” Evelyn tilted her head thoughtfully. “I like Vincent. I would bring one.

She kicked a pine cone at her feet and Abha thought if she had performed the same action, she would have heard the tinkle of the anklet against the grass. But she lost it.  There was a polychromatic tree they kept as a frame of reference. Once they crossed it, they were closer to the water.

“You should bring a gorilla mask.” Abha said.

“Yeah.” Evelyn agreed. “Except like, it wouldn’t be feminist thing all the time. I would just wear it and be, like, this raging terror.”

Abha grinned. “Go to a frat and you’ll blend right in.”

“Yes! Amazing.” Evelyn kissed her hard at the crown of her head. “I love you.” She enveloped her in the crook of her arm, two somatic rhythms syncing.

“You know, you could join me.” Evelyn whispered. Her breath condensed on Abha’s ear. “Two violent femmes. In San Fran, or Chicago.”

“We’d be guerrilla girls.” Abha mumbled.

“We would.” Evelyn pressed her nose against her cheek. “And we’d get drunk and dance to Bowie. We’d have an apartment with a balcony. We can go out and talk at night just the two of us.” She was so close. “Imagine.”

Abha didn’t want to say she already had so she buried her face in Evelyn’s wrist. Evelyn had a fistful of her hair, gathered at the nape of her neck.

“You’re scared.” Evelyn said.

“Aren’t you?”


She pressed her mouth against her head and spelled the same words again: What can you do?

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