TEAM Westport announces fifth annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest topic

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Chet Ellis, winner of TEAM Westport's Teen Diversity Essay Contest,
Chet Ellis, winner of TEAM Westport's Teen Diversity Essay Contest,Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — A year after its essay contest made national news, TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism) Westport has released its fifth annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest topic.

This year’s contest will ask students who are Westport residents or attend Staples High School to consider “appropriate protest,” based on the conversation spurned by professional athletes taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest the “ongoing bias and discriminatory practices in American society in general and by law enforcement officers in particular.”

“In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your understanding of what it means to be a patriot, what kinds of behavior you think would be unpatriotic, and what forms of protest against discriminatory laws, customs, or patterns of behavior you would consider legitimate,” the prompt says.

“We’re looking for something that’s really going to pique the interest of high school students and nudge them to getting those essays in,” said TEAM Westport Chairman Harold Bailey, Jr. said.

Last year’s essay prompt — on the phrase “white privilege” and what it meant to respondents — drew vitriolic responses from people across the country who left messages and emails for local officials and Bailey. Despite the response, Bailey said he and his colleagues on TEAM Westport were undeterred in their pursuit of a thought-provoking subject.

“Are we gunshy because of last year? No. Absolutely not,” Bailey said.

“The idea in prior years was to try to be as provocative as possible for high school kids in order to get them really engaged to really come out and give them their thoughts.”

Essays are due by Feb. 27 and winners will be announced April 2 at Westport Library. First place will receive a $1,000 prize, second place will receive $750 and third place will receive $500. Applications can be found at TEAM Westport’s website.; @justinjpapp1