The Essay Writing Exhibit will launch tonight at the Billie Jean King Library

Tonight, the Billie Jean King Library will present words of hope, identity and race from the perspective of high school students across the country in a touring essay writing exhibit around the southern California this summer.

Creative agency InterTrend Beyond 30 and its Make Noise Today initiative reached out to thousands of students and teachers to find out what high school students think about race, ethnicity and identity for its nationwide competition writing, “Letters To…”

The result was over 900 essay submissions – heartfelt letters to a loved one, peer, bully, parent or self, explaining feelings of racial identity and equity. The letters will be displayed in the library throughout the summer on large panels for residents to read.

The goal was to “give young people a voice, especially with everything going on in the world right now,” said Tanya Raukko, chief strategy officer at InterTrend.

Raukko, who read each entry, said she was shocked by the contestants’ high level of writing. Many entries focused on the need for mental health, she said.

“I think these kids are going through a lot,” Raukko said. “That’s why I think mental health is a big theme that comes out as a need that they have, but also, some of these challenges that they would talk about, it would turn into a bit of positivity and hope for the future. and how they intend to change the world.”

Of the 10 essay winners, six will be present in person or via Zoom to read their essays aloud during Thursday’s exhibition.

Residents will have the opportunity to ask similar identity questions at tonight’s event, as they will be encouraged to write their own letters.

Long Beach is launching the summer series, which will travel to various Southern California museums, libraries and multicultural centers to amplify student voices on the issue of racial identity.

As part of InterTrend’s Make Noise Today initiative, the agency has partnered with educators across the country to provide educational kits that “create space for discussion about race” with a focus on narration, according to the initiative’s website.

The initiative was launched in May 2020, in response to the increase in hate crimes against the Asian American community. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 149% in 2020. The same center published a study indicating that the the number jumped to 339% in the last year.

Long Beach has more than 54,000 Asian residents, or nearly 12% of the city’s population, according to United States data.

The topic encourages self-reflection, and Raukko says the impressionable age is what makes high schoolers perfect for this kind of contest.

“We really wanted to seriously think about the most profound impact on the fight against racism. And we knew that [high school] was where people… their value system is formed at this point and they’re still kind of malleable and open-minded,” Raukko said.

The approximately 900 entries were narrowed down to the top 200 by an internal panel of Make Noise Today judges. A three-person external panel – an educator, an author, and a journalist – then chose the top 10 winners, who received a total of $10,000 in prize money.

The exhibition will take place at the Billie Jean King Library tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. The letters will be available for consultation throughout the summer during regular library hours.

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