‘Better Together’ Essay Contest Winners Announced

May 2, 2021

Together Pensacola, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote equality and value of all citizens in the Pensacola Bay area, sponsored a essay contest for elementary, middle and high school students.

The theme was “Better Together: Our families, schools, neighborhoods, places of worship, and communities are all better when everyone is respected and included.”

The contestants needed to answer three questions in their essays:

  1. What gets better when everyone is respected and included?
  2. How can we make it happen?
  3. How can we be better together?

The winning essays are published below.

Winners were:

Grades 4-5:

First place: $100: Lillyth Dekker,  Molino Park Elementary

Second place: $50, Aryana Weintraub, Blue Angels Elementary School

Third place: $25 Thomas O’Brien, Kingsfield Elementary School

Grades 6-8:

First place: $100, Miera Rich, Bellview Middle Schoo

Second place: $50, Marcell Thomas, Bellview Middle School

Third place: $25, Xa’zayvion Butler, Bellview Middle School

Grades 9-12:

First place: $200, Amiya Boyd, Booker T. Washington High School

Second place: $100, Bonnie Bruner, Booker T. Washington High School

Third place: $50, Chris Iversen, Booker T. Washington High School

Together Pensacola (ToP) is a group of concerned citizens who come together to brainstorm and discuss ways to help build connections and strengthen relationships between and among people in the Pensacola Bay area. The group focuses  on what unites us rather than on our differences and what separates us. Its goal is to promote and introduce ideas and activities to implement this brand of community building.

Elementary School Winners


“Better Together”
by Lillyth Dekker
4th grade, Molino Park Elementary – 1st place

Have you every noticed how rude people can be and how little people do charity nowadays? It is more important now than it has ever been for our upcoming generation to come together to make sure that our community and country are taken care of. It is instrumental for our future that all races and religions come together and work as one. It doesn’t matter about your religion or the color of your skin. We are all human and face the same struggles in life. It is up to us to look after one another.

You may think some people are rude and nasty, but you might not know what that person is going through at that time in life. He or she may not know where his or her next meal will come from. You can make a difference by showing kindness and respect. You could help those people by just giving them support and helping them through life’s struggles. You could give them anonymous letters of where local food pantries are located, or you could give them canned goods to help them out.

We as people should respect one another and be appreciative of what we have in this world right now. Everyone should appreciate our veterans, doctors and nurses, police officers, and firefighters. They have helped tremendously during this pandemic. They have worked nonstop to make sure the U.S. citizens are taken care of before they rest. We can help them by paying respect and helping them. In conclusion, you should be kind, respect one another, and come together to become one group and inspire people to become part of a community.

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“Better Together”
by Aryana Weintraub
5th grade, Blue Angels Elementary School – 2nd place winner

Being better together means working together and being well respected. Together, our community, our families, schools and more can be improved by everyone having the same respect for each other and helping one another when an incident might happen. For example, when Hurricane Sally recently hit Pensacola, many people were devastated. The community came together to help those who were affected by donating supplies.

Trust could be known as the glue that holds our families, relationships and communities together. Trust is very much needed within our communities so you know who to rely on when you need help.

Teamwork is another important thing we can do better together. Teamwork means to me that when someone is in trouble or needs help, someone will always be there to help and lift that person up. Our communities should be something we can rely on when in need.

Kindness is a big part of our lives because it improves our life as it does in our community. Kindness brings people together. Doing good for other people can make you feel good. Kindness is very contagious. The more you do to improve the act of kindness, the more it will go around.

At all times it is important that our community and citizens follow the rules. Following the rules is important because it helps our community understand what is expected and what might happen if they disregard the rules. If our community or any citizens decide to violate the rules, then there could be consequences for their misbehaved actions such as getting a fine or going to jail.

In conclusion, we should realize that there are so many ways to improve our communities together through trust, teamwork, kindness, hard work, and following the rules. The kind of community we hope to be and thrive is one where everyone can be respected and included.

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“Better Together”
by Thomas O’Brien
4th grade, Kingsfield Elementary School – 3rd place winner

Pensacola and the surrounding area is a wonderful place to live, work, and go to school. We can make it better by respecting others to make the community stronger. We do that by being inclusive and helping without anything in return.

First, a way to make the community stronger is by being inclusive. You should help the homeless. You can help the homeless by providing them warm clothes to wear, food to eat, and essential items like a toothbrush and toothpaste. If you can’t afford to help the homeless financially, you can help by donating your time by helping at a soup kitchen or the food bank.

Next, if you treat others the way that you want to be treated, then it will make our community stronger. If you see someone sitting alone or eating alone, ask if they would like to join you in whatever you are doing or join you at your table to eat. Be nice to them because you never know when your kindness can change the life of someone else for the better. Helping foster relationships helps to make our community stronger. Making relationships with others allows you to meet new people, make new friends, and connections.

Next, a way to make the community stronger is to help without expecting anything in return. Helping people from kindness instead of for a reward. For instance, you can pay for someone’s coffee in the drive-thru line behind you knowing they will never be able to thank you, but perhaps they will pay it forward and do something similar. Be positive always. Build people up instead of tearing them down. Do what you do because you know that it is right, not because someone else is watching. If you see someone drop money, pick it up and return it instead of keeping it.

In conclusion, be the change you want to see to make this community better and stronger. Make people feel included, help without gaining anything, and be kind. Kindness and positivity can be spread by simply a smile or a help.

Middle School Winners


Together We Are Better
by Miera Rich
8th grade, Bellview Middle School, 1st place

What gives people the right to judge other people by the color of their skin? People have judged African Americans for years because of their skin color. Black people have been treated with disrespect and no equality. Black people have been suffering and killed because of racism. A black man, Ahmaud Arbery, was killed just for jogging around a neighborhood, and he was killed because of the color of his skin. A neighbor saw him running and assumed he was robbing homes! Really? So is it illegal for a black man to jog? Why is it so hard to treat people equally and with respect? Some people should feel ashamed for what they have said or done to black people. It is wrong to judge others by the color of their skin. How would you feel if you were you black? Just for a moment put yourself in the shoes of a black person. You don’t know, unless you know. But this is what we deal with. It may not happen every day, but it happens too much!

Let me share the racist hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery. He was jogging in a neighborhood and was accused of robbing a construction site. There is actual footage of him entering the construction site, looking around; then he continues his run. He was hunted down and killed by three white men. They followed him, blocked him in, and shot him with a rifle. And after hunting and killing a black man, they walked away and were not arrested! Do you see what’s going on? They were only arrested 10 weeks later. After that event, they should’ve been arrested on the same day for murder! Things need to change in this country; things need to change here in Pensacola, too. There are too many black people being killed because of racism. If something doesn’t change, then there will be no change. We will be forever in a bad cycle of never-ending racism. So how do we change? What can we do? People can learn to understand, respect, and trust each other. Then we can come to an understanding of each other. If we can do that, there will be no cops killing black people, or white people having more voice than African Americans. When people learn to treat each other right, then we can all be considered equals.

The police should be more involved in the community because if something were to happen, it wouldn’t be as violent because the community would know the policemen on a personal level and so would the policemen. If a police officer is afraid or has racist feelings about a certain group of people, he or she does not need to patrol that community. It’s just that simple. Get rid of any police officer that has been known for violence against people of color. It’s just that simple. Police should also go to classes on how to understand people of color, how to solve a problem without violence, and how to talk to people. The community will get to know the police officers, and there won’t be any hostile feelings toward the policemen. The bottom line is that people should be able to understand each other and respect one another. Every white person is not racist, and every black person is not a criminal! That’s how we can get better together by recognizing that racism still exists and by coming up with solutions to make it better for everyone.

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Together We Are Better
by Marcell Thomas
8th grade, Bellview Middle School – 2nd place

What gives people the right to judge other people by the color of their skin? People have judged African Americans for years because of their skin color. Black people have been treated with disrespect and no equality. Black people have been suffering and killed because of racism. A black man, Ahmaud Arbery, was killed just for jogging around a neighborhood, and he was killed because of the color of his skin. A neighbor saw him running and assumed he was robbing homes! Really? So is it illegal for a black man to jog? Why is it so hard to treat people equally and with respect? Some people should feel ashamed for what they have said or done to black people. It is wrong to judge others by the color of their skin. How would you feel if you were you black? Just for a moment put yourself in the shoes of a black person. You don’t know, unless you know. But this is what we deal with. It may not happen every day, but it happens too much!

Let me share the racist hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery. He was jogging in a neighborhood and was accused of robbing a construction site. There is actual footage of him entering the construction site, looking around; then he continues his run. He was hunted down and killed by three white men. They followed him, blocked him in, and shot him with a rifle. And after hunting and killing a black man, they walked away and were not arrested! Do you see what’s going on? They were only arrested 10 weeks later. After that event, they should’ve been arrested on the same day for murder! Things need to change in this country; things need to change here in Pensacola, too. There are too many black people being killed because of racism. If something doesn’t change, then there will be no change. We will be forever in a bad cycle of never-ending racism. So how do we change? What can we do? People can learn to understand, respect, and trust each other. Then we can come to an understanding of each other. If we can do that, there will be no cops killing black people, or white people having more voice than African Americans. When people learn to treat each other right, then we can all be considered equals.

The police should be more involved in the community because if something were to happen, it wouldn’t be as violent because the community would know the policemen on a personal level and so would the policemen. If a police officer is afraid or has racist feelings about a certain group of people, he or she does not need to patrol that community. It’s just that simple. Get rid of any police officer that has been known for violence against people of color. It’s just that simple. Police should also go to classes on how to understand people of color, how to solve a problem without violence, and how to talk to people. The community will get to know the police officers, and there won’t be any hostile feelings toward the policemen. The bottom line is that people should be able to understand each other and respect one another. Every white person is not racist, and every black person is not a criminal! That’s how we can get better together by recognizing that racism still exists and by coming up with solutions to make it better for everyone.

#####

Together We Are Better
by Xa’zayvion Butler
8th grade, Bellview Middle School – 3rd place

Have you ever sat down with your son to tell him how to act if a police officer pulls him over? Well, this is a serious conversation that happens with many black males. You see, interacting with the police can be a life or death situation. This is our reality in the black community. Make sure you answer, “Yes, sir, no, sir.” Always put your hands up so the police don’t think you’re reaching for a weapon. Ask if you can show your driver’s license and registration before you make a move. Yeah, those are the types of talks black parents have with their sons. This is the kind of talk my auntie had with me. Before things can get better, people have to understand that that is our reality. Every time I go somewhere, my auntie tells me to be safe and don’t get pulled over, and she tells me how to act with the police. These are the lessons we have to have to try to make sure we are not violently abused or killed by police. The police are supposed to protect and serve, not attack and kill. If you have not had these kinds of talks with your child, then you really need to listen to what people of color deal with every day.

Real talk. This is how we deal with the police, and we should not have to feel scared, Intimidated, or worried when dealing with them. I shake my head thinking about this, but this is real and this is our reality daily. Why do we have to worry? Why should we feel like that? Because we have seen or heard about police going too far. It’s people of color being treated wrong, disrespected, beat, kicked, pinned down, snatched out of cars, tasered or killed at the hands of police officers. I’m not saying every police officer is bad; there are some good ones and ones that are all right. We need to better the community and make it a place for young men and young women to feel safe while out driving. This is not a game, people. It’s not “cool” to get pulled over by the police. It’s a risk because you pray it’s not one trying to flex his authority and to hem you up over some nonsense. It’s not “cool” to be in a situation like that. We all need to do better! We all need to talk with each other and share our stories. I don’t want Pensacola to be on the news for killing a person of color over some minor thing. I hope the police try to do better by treating everyone equally and fairly. We have to be careful and drive safely and do the speed limit. And one thing we shouldn’t forget is to put our seatbelts on. We have to better our state and our city. We’ve got to make changes to be better.

High School Winners


“Better Together”
by Amiya Boyd
11th grade, Booker T. Washington High School – 1st place

When I was 8 years old, I learned about the idiom of certainty, death, and taxes. When I was 11, I finally understood what the saying truly meant, but for me, if there was anything to be sure of alongside death and taxes, it was the undeniable fact that I would be Black for as long as I walked this Earth and long after I’m gone. Since then, as the world has grown and changed, as the nation has become so divided and so hardened in its beliefs, I have learned the importance of such details about myself and the people around me. The United States is in dire need of healing at the moment, and the avoidance of the aspects we cannot change will only give life to more issues. For togetherness and unity to work, we must be willing to acknowledge and accept, or at the very least, respect, the differences of those around us.

Often, many people view discussions of gender, race, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status as divisive means of playing identity politics to further grow an agenda. In reality, these conversations are not only crucial in understanding the way these factors influence people’s daily lives but are also essential in recognizing patterns of disenfranchisement within certain communities. My understanding of this comes from observations of people’s refusal to acknowledge race under the pretense that they are “colorblind” and from people saying how they would rather view everyone as just human beings. However, in all cases, it demonstrates their failure to understand that the practices we know to be racist are no longer as simple as a pointed white hood and a burning cross and that these practices are instead built into various systems and institutions. To skip conversations about race, gender, and status because they make us uncomfortable is to ignore how factors like these play a role in how people are treated and perceived by both the world around them as well as government institutions. In addition to this fact, the way we understand concepts like racism and sexism is heavily reliant on the language used in partnership with these ideas. Washington Post columnist, Carlos Lozada, stated, “Language can limit and exclude. But language also holds out hope for individual freedom.”

While it is understood how the overuse of labels may become redundant and prove to be futile in our pursuit of trying to understand each other, it also allows room for us to learn about the people and the world around us. Acknowledging and respecting the fact that our society is not monolithic and that people lead different lifestyles is the tolerance we need in the world at a time like this. Rather than tiptoeing around these topics, we must face them head-on together so that we can dismantle the prejudice within our nation while providing aid to those most affected.

Differences in race, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status are simply factors that make us individuals. While many Americans view claiming such labels as divisive and would rather overlook such factors altogether, it is important to acknowledge this variance within our society to grow as a nation and become more united as we were intended to be. Failure to recognize things like race and gender in hopes of becoming egalitarians only succeeds in our turning a blind eye to how these factors equate to inequity within certain institutions and systems. To come together, we must get to the root of this country’s problems and build up from there, as one.

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“Better Together”
by Bonnie Bruner
11th grade, Booker T. Washington High School – 2nd place

Diverse doesn’t begin to describe the population of Pensacola; a five-minute drive from Jerry’s Drive into downtown can prove just that. But in this diverse city, there are divides among people caused by the difference of opinions, bigotry, racism, and differences in social groups. Combating these issues is an extremely difficult task, as it is overwhelmingly cumbersome, but we must have community inclusion and a sense of togetherness that make Pensacola feel welcoming, friendly, and inclusive. The easiest way to achieve these goals is by making others feel included and building a family by reaching out, being a pillar of support in the community, and making interactions accessible to all. Everyone can do those three simple things to accomplish what The Beatles said in 1969 and “come together.”

Reaching out is one of the easiest and kindest actions, yet it’s not very common. Whatever happened to casual conversation? Simply having a quick chat can brighten a person’s entire day, especially during these unprecedented times when being isolated is the new norm. It may be difficult for some to put aside their prejudice or assumptions of others, but in reality, what’s the worst that can happen from simply saying hello? Random strangers need to be seen as potential friends, and the differences in race, gender, appearance, and social class shouldn’t discourage someone from reaching out. Many people are struggling and just need one person to hear them out; others could use a good friend, or maybe they feel excluded. Talking is easy, effortless, and can provide the kind of comforting atmosphere that invites people to become included. A connected community cannot function without proper support. Once communication is established, people can begin to support one another in an interconnected way. Lending a helping hand to one person, in tum, will help you. Almost like a buddy system, if everyone has each other’s backs, no one will fall. A part of the process of being a pillar of support for the community is learning and accepting others’ faults as well as your own. Important bonds are formed through the trust and dependability of others; creating these bonds within our community shrinks the gaps that divide us and creates long-lasting relationships among people of all differences.

There are over fifty thousand people in Pensacola, yet there are still some who don’t have the accessibility of mingling with others. Becoming closer as a community doesn’t just mean getting over social differences and boundaries, but it also means creating ways for more people to have access to the community. Many people physically can’t attend in-person functions because of disabilities, anxiety, illness, and other factors that hold them back. Church buses and daycare vans are easily accessible and only need a volunteer driver and gas to transport loads of people who need the support. Pensacola also has many online groups that can virtually open up their doors to become more accessible to those who wish to join. Making others feel welcomed opens up access to many people who could feel intimidated or nervous about becoming involved and meeting new people.

Pensacola is a beautiful place because of the thousands of people who make it that way. Through kindness and human decency, such as reaching out, providing support, and accessibility, our community can learn to accept, love, and connect in order to close the gaps that have formed between us. Anyone can, and everyone should, take these minimal, easy steps to bring our city together.

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“Better Together”
by Chris Iversen
11th grade, Booker T. Washington High School – 3rd place

When working together, we become a much stronger force that can topple problems within our community. To bring forth the reality of a perfect community, we need people to step up and lend a hand as volunteers to help the public. We should help the community by volunteering for public works projects with help given by the government through advertising to encourage people to volunteer.

There are many benefits from public works organizations that positively affect our community. First of all, they can give aid to people who are in need of housing or food. According to DoSomething.org’s “11 Facts About Food Banks,” over 50 million people suffer from hunger every year, but the problem is combated by food banks which are able to provide food to 37 million people in a year. If we work together and spread the word about supporting these banks, that number will hopefully increase. Another way public works projects are beneficial is by saving money. In an article written by Katlyn Snyder on Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)1,, the use of PSH is able to save 15 thousand dollars per person a year, saving taxpayers about 2 thousand dollars a year. Mental health can also be improved with the help of public works projects like ones described in Maggie Thomas’ article on public art projects and the mental benefits that result from them. In these times of crisis, mental fortitude may be one of the most important assets we can develop.

While there are benefits toward the environment that result from public works, there are also benefits toward the volunteers who help with these projects. For example, when I work with my church’s youth group on service projects, I not only get the satisfaction of knowing that I helped someone, but I also meet and make friendships with new people along the way. Volunteering to help a cause has

1 A system in which permanent housing is provided to chronically homeless people that follows the philosophy that housing is needed before solving any other personal problems.

the benefits of meeting new people and learning new skills from those people. This fact is expressed in an article from helpguide.org on the pros and cons of volunteer work which explains, “Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training.” A personal example of this kind of opportunity occurred when I volunteered as an “in-training” camp counselor at a summer camp for a week. Before my week started, I was taught how I should act around children and how I could best make their time at the camp enjoyable. Because I volunteered at that camp, I learned how to tend to the needs of children. If more people were to volunteer with public works projects, the community could become much more diverse in that people will be acquainted with many different skills.

A question that may arise from this topic is “How would people and organizations be motivated to contribute to the needs of the community?” To answer this question, I would advise that the government should advertise these projects on a nationwide scale. According to the data given by A. Guttman and Matheson Russell in their respected statistics of yearly television advertising costs and yearly government spending costs, while it would cost a large amount of money to invest in television advertising (around 60 billion dollars a year), that is practically nothing compared to the total spending costs of the government (around 3.4 trillion dollars a year). Because of the relatively insignificant costs for advertising, the government should help with encouraging the people to follow through with public works projects.

When considering all of the benefits regarding the health of the community, public works projects should be used by volunteer organizations, and encouraged by the government through advertising.

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