photo contributed by Chet Ellis ’19
Sitting down, cracking your knuckles and beginning an essay for English or history class can be a dreaded process when students have a bad case of writer’s block. In order to get all your jumbled ideas onto the page and hit submit before the deadline is not only a writing process but an act of thinking and experiencing. When cramming to get your paper in on time, one often misses the subtle nuances that add creative flares and spark a connection between the subject and the reader. For these reasons, a bad case of writer’s block can result in the downward spiral of untimeliness and uncommunicated flares.
However, Chet Ellis ’19 did not struggle with writer’s blocks during this year’s TEAM Westport Teen Diversity Essay Contest, in which he took first place. Ellis was able to illustrate the effects of leaving microaggression toward minorities unaddressed while weaving in some personal experiences of growing up as a minority in Westport in order to bring light to this issue.
“The process took a day or two to actually put the pen to paper and write out the whole essay but I had been thinking of the idea for a while before then,” Ellis said.
According to WestportNow, Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism (TEAM) is an effort by Westport to make the community more accepting of diverse race, ethnicity, religion and sexual identities present throughout the town.
“The contest really shone a light on diversity and lack thereof in the community,” Daniel Boccardo ’19 said. “Ever since I’ve written my essay I’ve gotten tons of messages and support from both students and parents who were once in my position. The contest has been a blessing and a beautiful opportunity to demonstrate the very much active ignorance in Westport.”
In the 2017 essay contest when Ellis was just a sophomore, he also won first place for his piece entitled “The Colors of Privileged” in which Ellis depicts the perpetual notion of white privilege in Westport and, more broadly, the nation, according to Boston News. One example Ellis explains is how whites view and their preconceived notions regarding the college admission process for minority students: thinking that it may be easier for someone who is black to be accepted.
The Westport Library explains that this years prompt asked writers to describe an experience witnessing, delivering and/or receiving Micro-Aggressions focused on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual identity, and describe the impact of the event.
Sticking to an “injustices” theme, Ellis’s piece this year, entitled “The Sound of Silence” focuses on how letting racial remarks fall by the wayside at a young age can lead to an overwhelming silence when one grows up, furthering racial slurs or comments made by friends and surrounding community members. Ellis describes an incident with his tracks teammates in which they verbalized how Ellis’s college process would be easier than theirs because he could play the “race card.”
Neighborhood Scout reports that Westport is dominated by 90% white and demographically is only about 1% black or African American. These statistics further corroborated the ideas present in Ellis’s essay that people of color may feel pressure not to or not know how to call out subtle microaggressions.
“I love the idea that the people of Westport can hear my experiences as a minority in the town because so often minority stories aren’t afforded the spotlight,” Ellis said.
This year’s win guaranteed Ellis a two-time winner and a $1000 prize. Second and third place went to two other Staples students, Angela Ji ’19 and Boccardo, who won $750 and $500, according to Westport Patch.
“The TEAM essay is good because it gives a platform for minorities to voice their own experiences and have them heard by the town,” Ellis said.