The Legacy Essay Contest is a joint enterprise of the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, ASCD, the National Council for the Social Studies, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and Karz Productions ( producer of Legacy: Black and White in America). The essay contest has been hosted by The National Gallery of Writing.

This is the largest essay contest of its kind with an outreach campaign to over 5 million educators. The contest is for high school juniors and seniors and is on the legacy and lessons of the Civil Rights Movement. In this first year of the essay contest, ca. 1,275 submissions were made to the 85 participating teachers. The winner and two runner ups were then selected by the 11 finalist judges from the top ten essays.

The Legacy Essay Contest was designed to inspire high school juniors and seniors to look at their own lives and times in the context of the values and goals of the Civil Rights Movement. The aim has been to encourage an appreciation for the relevance of history in understanding and addressing racial inequity in America, to clarify our core principles and values as a democracy, and to build stronger communities based on mutual understanding and respect.

The Civil Rights Movement believed that a fully integrated pluralistic society is essential for democracy to function properly. The hope is that the Legacy Essay Contest will confront students with the complexity of this enterprise and will facilitate a dialogue with parents, peers, and themselves that can help make the dream of the Civil Rights Movement more of a reality.


Sarah will graduate from Mililani High School in May 2010. She plans to do her undergraduate studies at the University of Hawaii and then attend law school, specializing in constitutional law, with the goal of promoting civic education programs in her community. Sarah’s interest in the Civil Rights Movement began in her U.S. history class. “The first thing one thinks of when one hears ‘Civil Rights Movement’ is the African American struggle for civil rights that took place in the continental United States. There are many different kinds of civil rights and different movements to secure those rights. All of those concentrated efforts are connected to one another, even if they happen on opposite ends of the country or on other sides of the world.” Although Sarah participated in the Legacy Essay Contest as an assignment for her Government class, connecting the struggles of African Americans to Asian Americans brought home the relevance of the Civil Rights Movement in a very personal way.

Devon was born to a single, teen mother on February 2, 1993. Committed to education, his mother sacrificed to enroll her son in the best schools available, inspiring Devon to take advantage of his opportunities and become enrolled in gifted programs. In 2005 Devon earned an award from President George W. Bush for educational accomplishment and was named “Most Improved Student” the last two years in his Achieve class. Born to a White mother and Black father, Devon feels that he owes his very life to the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, without whom his parents would probably never have met and married. His goals are to go on to higher education and to participate in collegiate sports.

Laurie will be attending the University of Florida this fall and aspires to be a neurosurgeon. She was inspired to participate in the Legacy Essay Contest by chance. With no particular interest in competing in an essay contest she happened to glance at her English teacher’s wall of contests and noticed the poster for Legacy Essay Contest. For the rest of the day she found herself thinking about the topic and inspired to look at her life in a new way. Laurie attributes the essential, valuable things in her life to the Civil Rights Movement. “Everything that I hold dear, everything I believe in, my very soul, would not be without the movement."
Muhammad Ali, three-time World Heavyweight Champion
India.Arie, singer/songwriter
Peggy Cooper Cafritz, founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center
Dorothy Height, Chair and President Emerita of the National Council of Negro Women
Bob Herbert, columnist for the New York Times
Chip Insinger, educator
Rep. John Lewis, Democrat from Georgia
Alma Powell, Board Chair of America’s Promise Alliance
Deborah Roberts, ABC News correspondent
Beverly Daniel Tatum, President of Spelman College

L-R: Dr. Elsie L. Scott, Arne Duncan, Sarah Nishioka, and Richard Karz

The Legacy Essay Contest awards ceremony took place on Tuesday, April 13, at 9:30 a.m. at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as the keynote speaker and award presenter.

The event includes:

Kent Williamson, Executive Director, National Council of Teachers of English
Dr. Gene R. Carter, Executive Director and CEO, ASCD
Dr. Elsie L. Scott, President and CEO, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education

The Legacy and Lessons of the Civil Rights Movement
Richard Karz, producer/director of Legacy
Albert E. Dotson, Jr., Chairman, 100 Black Men of America
Madam Madon, Hip-Hop artist


For more information, please contact Richard Karz at richard@karzproductions.com or at 212-866-3703.



Richard Karz is the creator and curator of the Legacy Essay Contest. He is the producer/director of The Millennium Dinners documentary series, which includes If Women Ruled the World (2002), 9/11/03: A Day in the Life of New York (2005), and Legacy: Black and White in America (2009). The Millennium Dinners employs interdisciplinary, multicultural, and intergenerational VIP dinner gatherings to explore issues of global change through dialogue and background day-in-the-life profiles and vignettes. The series uses the dinner party as a metaphor to present the conflicts in human nature that have propelled our advancement as a civilization but that jeopardize our future survival. The aim of the series is to clarify the lessons of the past millennium in order to help inaugurate a new era in human relations. Richard Karz is also the editor of the forthcoming book collection, Lessons from My Mother: Growing Up Black in America.