“I am Palestinian, but I am not the enemy,” Shaker Heights High School senior Lea Kayali said at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage’s seventh annual “Stop the Hate: Youth Speak Out” award ceremony. “And to stop the hate, I stand with peace.”
Kayali was awarded the first place prize – a $40,000 four-year scholarship – for the essay she wrote about facing discrimination as an Arab-American at the April 30 ceremony in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gartner Auditorium.
The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood awarded $100,000 in grants and scholarships to 27 finalists in grades six through 12. Ten girls made up the grand-prize finalists, and each read her essay for the audience: Alexis Boone, a senior at Glenville High School; Christine Charlillo, a senior at Charles F. Brush High School in Lyndhurst; Julia Gentner, a senior at Rocky River High School; Amani Hill; a junior at Shaker Heights High School; Carrie Kubicki, a senior at Firelands High School in Henrietta Township in Lorain County; Jessica Neundorf, a senior at Fairview High School in Fairview Park; Samantha Spear, a senior at Chagrin Falls High School; Apoorva Vallampati, a junior at Aurora High School; Abby White, a senior at Shaker Heights High School; and Kayali.
Each girl read her speech, which was judged by a panel of nine community members, including last year’s grand-scholarship winner, Justin Bachman of Solon. Audience members served as the 10th judge and voted by texting the name of its favorite speaker to a designated number.
Boone was awarded the second runner-up prize, a $10,000 four-year scholarship, for her essay about witnessing a friend’s suicide caused by bullying.
Vallampati received a $15,000 four-year scholarship as runner-up for her essay about experiencing alienation and prejudice in school because of her Indian heritage.
Finalists were chosen from 3,000 essay submissions about ending intolerance and indifference. The grand-prize finalists’ essays addressed a number of issues, including school shootings, bullying, racism, sexism and anti-Semitism.
Milton and Tamar Maltz, founders of the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, presented the awards to the grand-prize winners. At the beginning of the ceremony, Milton Maltz described his first brush with bullying 80 years ago.
“I was enrolled in kindergarten,” said Maltz. “We were the only Jewish family in this neighborhood. They were all Christians. Right after that first day, a group of about five guys that were much older than me started calling me ‘kike’ and ‘Christ-killer.’ I didn’t even know who Christ was, for heaven’s sakes. I never killed anybody in my life, not even a cockroach.”
Maltz recalled how the bullies pushed him and tore off his clothes until he managed to run free.
“That was the beginning of my awareness of the need for tolerance and the need for diversity,” he said.
Over the Stop the Hate competition’s seven years, 15,000 students have written essays speaking out against intolerance and hatred. Previous finalists have gone on to volunteer in South Korea, study in Senegal, research infectious diseases, start a media company and research violence among students, among other accomplishments.
The ceremony was hosted by Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman and included musical performances by Humble G tha Fiddla and “Stop the Hate: Youth Sing Out” winners from Cleveland Heights High School, Shaw High School in East Cleveland and Newton D. Baker School of Arts in Cleveland.