RACHEL WHITBECK, Hashtag Black Power, Fashion. Grade 12, Age 17, Monticello High School, Monticello, NY

RACHEL WHITBECK, Hashtag Black Power, Fashion. Grade 12, Age 17, Monticello High School, Monticello, NY. Civic Expression Award

The Civic Expression Award was created for the 2018 Scholastic Awards, in partnership with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, to recognize students whose original art or writing demonstrates civic knowledge and skills. Recipients of this new Award are artists or writers whose work highlights and demonstrates awareness of American civic rights and responsibilities.

Along with the recognition, the students selected for this Award will receive $1,000 scholarships. This year, three artists and three writers were chosen for Civic Expression Awards. Their names are:

Lillian Benkoil, Evelyn DiSalvo, Ashley Hajimirsadeghi, Sydney Jones, Rachel Whitbeck, and Nathan Zhao!

Congratulations to this year’s recipients!


ASHLEY HAJIMIRSADEGHI, Poetry. Grade 12, Age 17, George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Towson, MD. Civic Expression Award

I was a young girl in post-revolutionary Tehran
And Baba told stories of a land paved
With wands of wheat and poetic Farsi blended with
Rough accented English just like saffron ice cream
There, hijabs weren’t chains
And Allah graced everyone
With dollar bills colored like rainforest leaves;
In this place, we could eat all the lavash we wanted
And our hair could waltz openly with the breeze

We had left Tehran—the only land I’d ever known
In the hazy summer of 1988, right before Supreme Leader
Khomeini had passed away, leaving a legacy
Maman and Baba had whispered condolences
About their decrepit copy of the Qu’ran and condolences
To our nation who despised Americans
For what they’d done to our country
And how they tried to seize what was left
Of the dry, wispy spirit of the Persians

But when we boarded the first flight to Austria
Maman sobbed into the windowpane, her
Olive skin flushed to a bronze color; she’d cried
Even more on the connecting flight to America
Her hazel eyes blooming like flowers in the desert
On the first and only rain they’d seen each year

On my first day of school I remember the
Blonde blue-eyed girls and boys,
My raven hair and crooked nose standing out—
Another reminder
I was a crow among doves, I will never be one of them
But still I sat tall and proud, a Persian lily
That survived through grains of sand
Eating away at its petals

“Where you from?”

English sounded like the vultures
Waiting to ravage my corpse
Among the tribes of northwest Iran,
Where cotton candy tipped mountains
Faded to desert and ancestors were buried under
The ever-shifting sands of the Middle East


First there was a spark to light the wick of the candle
It was an ugly candle, filled with waxy hatred and an
Uncomfortable itch that never went away—
Independence, Freedom, Islam—Death to America!
They recall stories their parents passed down
From times where Iranians were seen
As a liability that needed to be erased
And with a condescending breath,
They always seem to say:

“Go back to your country—you don’t belong here.”

But those who looked at me with enlightened eyes
With burning fires passed from one immigrant to another,
Told me something special
That drenched the desert of my heart:

“You’re an American now.”

To view more works that received Civic Expression Awards, visit our online galleries.

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