CSJ NJ Announces 2024 Black History Month Essay Contest Winners


The Council for Social Justice NJ Announces Black History Month Essay Contest 2024 Winners

The contest challenged high school students to reflect on diversity and racial injustice.

(Somerset, NJ, 2/28/2024) – The New Jersey chapter of the Council for Social Justice, (CSJ NJ) today is pleased to announce the winners of the 2024 statewide Black History Month Essay Contest.

High school students were asked to write 600 words or less on one of the following topics:

11th & 12th Grade: Compare and contrast the status of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories with the status of Blacks in Apartheid South Africa
9th & 10th Grade: Racial injustice in society and your civic responsibility

After careful review of all submitted essays, our panel of judges announced the following winners:

Grades 9 & 10:
1st Prize: Racial Injustice in society and your civic responsibility – by Dejalee Marmolejos, An-Noor Academy
2nd Prize: Racial Injustice and our civic duties – by Aesha Badawi, Rising Star Academy
3rd Prize – What are our responsibilities in the face of injustice? – by Rufaida Hossain, An-Noor Academy
Grades 11 & 12:
1st Prize: The Tears of Injustice – By Shifa Eraj, Rutgers Preparatory School
2nd Prize: Echoes of Displacement: Parallel narratives of resilience in Palestine and apartheid-era South Africa – By Suleiman Kouar, Darul Arqam School
3rd Prize: Parallels and Disparities: The plight of Palestinians and Blacks in apartheid regimes – By Zainab Ijaz, Rising Star Academy

First prize winners in both age groups will receive a new tablet. Second and third prize winners will receive $200 and $100 gift cards respectively.

The essay judged to be Best Overall is included below.

All winning essays can be found here: Essay Contest Winners

The Council for Social Justice, a project of The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), is a social justice/human rights organization that strives to systematically facilitate the human struggle for the rights of the poor and oppressed in the United States. See: icnacsj.org. ICNA is a leading American Muslim organization, dedicated to the betterment of society through the promotion of Islamic values. Since 1968, ICNA has worked to build relations between communities by devoting itself to education, outreach, social services and relief efforts. See icna.org.

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CONTACT: ICNA CSJ NJ Director: Jim Sues, 732-481-5117 option 3, jimsues@icnanj.org

Judged Overall Best Essay

Topic: Compare and contrast the status of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories with the status of Blacks in Apartheid South Africa

Title: The Tears of Injustice

By: By Shifa Eraj, Rutgers Preparatory School

From beneath the rubble, amidst the remnants of homes and lives, we can hear the cries of the oppressed serving as a harsh reminder of injustice. In both Palestine and Apartheid era South Africa, these voices bear witness to relentless suffering. Palestinians endure the daily threats of violence from Israeli forces under occupation, while Black South Africans face dehumanizing segregation laws and violence. Despite the contextual differences, both groups share the common experience of their status being relegated to second-class citizenship in their own lands.

Palestinians and Black South Africans in Apartheid share similarities. In South Africa, Apartheid laws were enacted in 1948, institutionalized racial segregation. Under this, measures like the Group Areas Act forcefully relocated millions of Blacks from their homes to segregated and undeveloped townships. Similarly, the Nakba in 1948 in Palestine was the brutal expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians to make way for the state of Israel. According to NPR, 2 million have also since been displaced in the recent war. Apartheid also enforced segregation, controlling movement under threat of violence, requiring people to carry identification documents at all times. Denied the basic dignity of movement in their indigenous land, Black South Africans had their identities reduced to mere papers. This parallels restrictions faced by Palestinians as they deal with checkpoints and barred entry to areas. Many Palestinians hope to reach Al-Aqsa, their hearts heavy with longing, only to be turned away. Additionally both groups have faced discrimination in access to resources such as education, healthcare ,employment and land ownership. Denied access to these rights, its clear that their status was deemed inferior by their colonizers, their humanity stripped away.

While Palestinians and Blacks in South Africa may share similarities in their experiences, it’s crucial to acknowledge that there are differences in how their status is perceived. Specifically regarding the international community’s differing responses. South Africa faced widespread condemnation and economic sanctions. Economics boycotts like the arms embargo and travel bans put pressure on the government for reform. Even at an individual level many artists such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones refused to perform and boycotted. On the other hand, Palestine has seen a limited response. According to Al Jazeera, since October 7, Israel has killed over 27,000 Palestinians,10,000 of these lives were children. Many of whom had not survived past the age of 1. Can we ever fathom the depths of their mothers despair? Yet rather than seeing sanctions, we see many countries providing billions in aid. Many celebrities are also voicing their support for Israel; Amy Schumer, Noah Schnapp, Gal Gadot, the list goes on. This is largely due to Israel’s powerful backing from influential countries and in turn it’s ability to sway public opinion through propaganda. Thus a Palestinian’s status is undervalued due to political and financial advantages, while apartheid faced stronger condemnation because the oppressed weren’t as influenced by power dynamics.

Allah says in the Quran inSurah Ash-Sharh (94:5) “So, surely with hardship comes ease.” As we look at the past and the future it is very easy to lose hope but we must remember these verses. Recently South Africa has filed a case in the world Court against Israel’s crimes. This is a gesture of solidarity with the oppressed. Even if the outcome of the case does not cause significant change, it is still a step towards it, and a reminder that one day justice will prevail.
ICNA Council for Social Justice

1320 Hamilton Street, Somerset
New Jersey 08873 United States

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