Baker’s dozen in Queens win ‘N’ Word essay contest

Queens students claimed 13 of the 17 awards given for the first annual Black History Month Essay Contest for middle school students sponsored by Councilmember Leroy Comrie in conjunction with his recent call for a symbolic moratorium on the use of the “N” word be declared by the City Council.
Open to New York City residents in the sixth to ninth grades or between the ages of 10 to 13, the theme of the contest, which was co-sponsored by the Brooklyn-based Abolish the “N” Word Project, Inc., was “Why the “N” Word Should Never Be Used.”
“I want to congratulate these young leaders who have answered the call of leadership,” said Comrie. “These students were able to express their ideas about why the “N” word should never be used and it is my hope that they will begin to work with their peers in hopefully putting an end to this cultural phenomena.”
The winners included: Jessica Aydinian, I.S. 109; Steve Cardozo, M.S. 172; Emily Chao, M.S. 216; Malika Khan, M.S. 216; Shalet Laing, M.S. 216; Taiwo Majekodunmi, M.S. 390; Pallabi Mitra, M.S. 17; Justin Morales, M.S. 172; Alanys Rodriguez, I.S. 109; Belinda Rosen, I.S. 98; Bernice Tran, I.S. 230 and Vinesha Vora, M.S. 172.
“We got some great essays talking about why it pains them to hear this word,” Comrie said of the winners, each of whom received a City Council citation and tickets to the UniverSoul Circus, a single ring circus of predominantly African-American performers.
Twelve-year-old Syed Husain, a sixth-grader at M.S. 172 in Floral Park and one of the winners, said he entered the contest because the word is hurtful and racist.
Husain said that when he hears other kids at school using it he tells them, “Get out of my face!”
Following the lead of its Civil Rights Committee which voted five to zero in favor of the resolution, the full City Council unanimously gave its support to the measure on Wednesday, February 28.
“It means the City Council gets it,” said Comrie, who submitted the resolution in early February calling attention to the popularity of the word among contemporary youth despite its history as a term used by slave masters to label their African slaves.
“The attempt to reformat the word didn’t work,” he said, referring to the substitution of the -er at the end of the word with the letter -a in conversational use, some maintain that the newer form is not pejorative.
Many young people “don’t understand they are dehumanizing and demeaning themselves,” by using it, Comrie said.
The moratorium is entirely symbolic and is not legally enforceable.
Comrie also elevated his local fight against the racial slur to the national arena by asking the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), which proffers the music industry’s prestigious Grammy Awards, to consider rejecting nominations for songs that include the word.
According to a list compiled by Comrie’s office, two artists received the awards for songs containing the “N” word that were released between October 1, 2005 and September 30, 2006.
In a written statement NARAS said that it had never received direct correspondence from Comrie but had received a copy of the press release that announced his appeal.
While NARAS lauded Comrie for his passion for the cause, “As an organization that represents 16,000 music makers our mission is to protect the rights of the creative community which means supporting freedom of expression and artistic freedom. We are not about censorship nor will we ever be, and we feel strongly that those profound rights need to be protected.”
Comrie also called on the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network to consider refraining from airing the “N” word during its primetime broadcasts of programs such as the syndicated Home Box Office series “The Wire.”
According to Comrie’s office, the epithet was heard on several occasions although other obscenities—those prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission from being broadcast—were deleted.
“Black Entertainment Television has an unparalleled influence on the youth of our community,” said Comrie. “It is my belief that deleting the airing of the “N” word during normal family viewing hours would send a powerful message to our community, and more importantly, our young people.”
BET did not return phone calls seeking comment.