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Charlottetown student wins national Black History Month essay competition

Charlottetown Rural High School is pretty proud of Grade 12 student Tatiana Kelly, 18, after she was recently named the grand prize winner in RBC’s national Black History Month student essay competition. The teenager wrote about her grandmother’s encounter with black activist Carrie Best almost 50 years ago.
Charlottetown Rural High School is pretty proud of Grade 12 student Tatiana Kelly, 18, after she was recently named the grand prize winner in RBC’s national Black History Month student essay competition. The teenager wrote about her grandmother’s encounter with black activist Carrie Best almost 50 years ago. - Dave Stewart

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - A chance encounter by her grandmother almost 50 years ago helped a Stratford high school student win a national RBC Black History Month essay contest.

Dylan Mullally, principal at Charlottetown Rural High School, said Grade 12 student Tatiana Kelly’s essay will be prominently displayed on mattboard in the school’s main display case. Tatiana was recently named the grand prize winner in RBC’s national Black History Month essay contest.
Dylan Mullally, principal at Charlottetown Rural High School, said Grade 12 student Tatiana Kelly’s essay will be prominently displayed on mattboard in the school’s main display case. Tatiana was recently named the grand prize winner in RBC’s national Black History Month essay contest.

Black History Month took place in February.

In her essay, Tatiana Kelly, 18, detailed how her grandmother, Florence Kelly, and her father, then four years old, ran into black activist Carrie Best in Halifax.

In 1943, Best confronted racial segregation at a theatre in New Glasgow, N.S. where she purchased tickets for the downstairs seating of the theatre that was reserved for whites only and attempted to watch a film with her son. Both were arrested and fought the charges in an attempt to challenge the legal justification of the theatre’s segregation. Although their case was unsuccessful, Best continued to fight for racial equality her entire life.

“I think it’s impressive to stand up for what you believe in and it does take a lot of courage,’’ Tatiana said when asked what impressed her most about Best. “If you’re going to make a change in the world you have to start with yourself and make that change and so she positively affected society.’’

Watch Kelly read an exerpt from her essay in the video below (story continues after video) 

In 1970, Best approached Tatiana’s grandmother after the teenager’s father remarked “Brown people, Mommy! Brown people!’’ Two black women, Best and another woman, had just walked through the doors of a dining room in a Halifax hotel. It was the first time Tatiana’s father had seen a black person.

When Tatiana’s grandmother tried to shush her son, Best walked over and used it as a teaching opportunity about race. Best told Tatiana’s grandmother to never hush children when they said something like that as it can lead them to believe the subject was something to be ashamed of.

Tatiana, a Grade 12 student at Charlottetown Rural High School, was awarded a $5,000 scholarship for her essay, entitled “Carrie Knows Best: One Woman’s Fight for Racial Equality’’.

Essay winners

  • Grand prize – Tatiana Kelly, Charlottetown
  • Second place – Ililli Ahmed, Ottawa, Ont.
  • Third place – E. Kunle-Oladous, Caledon, Ont.

Four additional winners from Atlantic Canada will also receive a scholarship:

  • Jasmine Tang (Bluefield High School), Cornwall, P.E.I.
  • Taylor Murphy, Dartmouth, N.S.
  • Gillian Finney, Dieppe, N.B.
  • Robyn Jessome, Inverness, N.S.

Tatty, as she’s called by teachers, friends and family, said she’s going to invest the money into her future education plans. She intends to take science at UPEI next year.

“I’m not sure yet,’’ when asked what her long-term aspirations are, “but I’m thinking something in the medical field. Not quite sure yet, though.’’

This isn’t the first time the Charlottetown Rural high student has been recognized for her essay-writing talents. She entered a federal government contest before and was one of 100 winners.

But, it’s her personal connection with Black History Month that has thrust her onto the national stage. She’s thankful that her grandmother shared her encounter with Best.

“I thought it was pretty cool that I had a personal connection,’’ she said.

Florence Kelly said she’ll never forget that chance encounter with Carrie Best.

“That was something that just seemed to mean so much to me and I had it all written down (in my journal) so when Tatty mentioned about this essay contest and said she’d like to enter it and did I know anybody she could write about (I knew I had the perfect story),’’ Florence said. “I’m pretty proud of (Tatty) but I’m proud of all my grandchildren.’’

Dylan Mullally, principal at the Rural, said that brush with history is what makes Tatiana’s story unique.

“It’s about a great Canadian in an off-the-chance encounter that happened many years ago,’’ Mullally said. “But, it’s that oral history aspect that was passed on by a grandmother to a granddaughter and the granddaughter taking that story and seeing an opportunity through this essay contest that, I think, is so profound. I’m happy for Tatty but I’m also happy for Mrs. Kelly at the same time. I think, as a family, they can celebrate this together.’’

Tatiana, the daughter of Doug and Laurie Kelly, said her essay also serves as a learning tool for everyone.

“(Carrie Best) ended up telling my dad a story about how it doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white, that everyone was made equal. I think that’s an important message.’’

Twitter.com/DveStewart

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