“It speaks volumes about how engaged the students are in wanting to ensure that their voices are heard – regardless of which side the center they’re on,” said Akil Mondesir, METCO director for the Bedford schools. “’Fantastic’ is the word I would use to describe how the day went.”
More than 20 teams from a dozen urban and suburban high schools convened at Bedford High School, which resonated with enthusiastic spirit amidst the intensity of scholastic competition.
The last two Tenacity Challenges took place in a remote format. Mondesir welcomed the return to an in-person experience. “I was energized to see so many students, coming to be part of the day, as well as so many community members.”
The all-day academic competition focused on the theme, “Are new voting laws intended to prevent voter fraud or impede Latino and African-Americans from voting?” Besides publicly presenting arguments related to the theme, participating teams also took part in art, literature, and math contests.
BHS entered three teams in the competition, and one of them, “Project Excel,” was the overall winner. Team members were Bryan Aweh-Kisob, Kelly Aweh-Kisob, Ariel Navon, Karen Navon, Tomas Ou, and Colin Vieira.
Another local entry, “The Scholarly Six,” won the art contest and took second in the literary category. The six were Aledam Contreras-Rosario, Aleksi Dubaquie-Sanchez, Joseph Kponou,Kailiyah LaBoy, Kaylin Ortiz, and Gabe Paula. Members of the third team, “The Furious Four, were Jayden Bien-Aime, Alisha Marsngi, Elena Sheth, and Arianna Triplett,
Keynote speaker was Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, candidate for Suffolk County district attorney.
A former public defender, Arroyo elicited cheers and applause when he said he advocates reducing the voting age to 16 in Boston city elections. Students “feel the weight” of most of the important city issues government faces, such as climate change and gentrification, he said; indeed, “there isn’t a single room that exists that you don’t belong in.”
He passed along advice that he said he received from his parents, both immigrants from Puerto Rico: “Do something you want to do, but make sure it helps the community.”
“Just because you can’t fix something entirely doesn’t mean you can’t make it better,” Arroyo told the students. “Every person is going to go on and shape the world we live in.” He noted that “the first thing I did as an elected official was move to declare racism as a public health crisis. And it succeeded.”
Another featured speaker was the spoken-word artist and entrepreneur Michelle LaPoetica Richardson. “She was dynamic – her poetry gave us chills,” Mondesir said.
Among the familiar faces was Jon Sills, the retired superintendent of schools and former BHS principal who was instrumental in conceiving and nurturing the Tenacity Challenge. Also, Mondesir noted, “I truly appreciated Jenabu Williams coming all the way from New Jersey.” Williams is an administrator at the Essex County, NJ, Schools of Technology. “He wants to talk with us about how we can get a team from New Jersey.”
That’s a possibility for next year, and Mondesir said he is seeking feedback from students to further improve and refine the program.
Among the volunteers at Saturday’s event were members of the alumni chapters of Pi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta, the historically Black fraternity and sorority, respectively. Mondesir is president of Omicron Chi Sigma chapter of Pi Beta Sigma.