Dream Deferred Essay Contest

February 28, 2014
Maximum Award: 
Other, see comments
You must be 25 years old or younger on May 27

The Dream Deferred Essay Contest was inspired by a 1951 Langston Hughes poem, What happens to a dream deferred? Just as the Langston Hughes poem helped inspire the civil rights movement, the contest sponsors feel that essay contest will also be regarded as an opportunity for American and Middle Eastern youth to unite over the issue of advancing civil liberties in the Middle East.

The contest is sponsored by the American Islamic Congress which is "dedicated to building interfaith and interethnic understanding." It was founded in November 2001 by a diverse group of American Muslims to promote tolerance following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Americans and Middle Easterners, aged 25 and younger, can participate and enter the contest. They need to answer one of the questions on the contest website which pertain to civil rights in the Middle East. Entries can be submitted in English, French, Persian or Arabic.

The sponsors stress that they don’t want essays that focus on US government policy and regional geo-politics (the Iraq War debate, the Arab-Israeli-Iranian conflict, Iran's nuclear program, etc.). Essays based on these topics are disqualified. Judges are looking for essays that explore what ordinary citizens can do on the grassroots level to strengthen individual rights within Middle Eastern societies. These civil rights include, but are not limited to, free expression, women's equality, minority rights, religious freedom, economic liberty, and artistic freedom.

Essays should be at least 600 words, but no longer than 1,500 words. Footnotes, citations, and essay title do not count towards the word limit.

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If you live in United States...
Perspective: How has the past year changed your view of individual rights in the Mideast? As many long-ignored civil rights challenges boiled to the surface, what did you learn? Consider how your own identity (background, worldview, experiences, etc.) impacted your reaction.

Profile a Mideast Civil Rights Reformer: What about their work inspires you? Explain the challenge to individual rights this reformer addresses and the nonviolent approach used to advance change. Suggest ways that you as an individual in America can help support their work.

Profile an American Assisting Mideast Reform: How is this person leveraging their freedom to assist on the grassroots level in the Middle East? Explain how their assistance fills a need, and describe the tools (e.g. technology) used to make an impact. Explore ways you can assist.

Campus: What can you do in your community or campus to support Mideast civil rights efforts? Propose a campaign that mobilizes public pressure to support an effort to help advance individual rights in the region. Describe the campaign’s demand and plan for enlisting support.
Dream: What is your “dream deferred” vision of Americans helping to protect individual rights in the Mideast? Imagine a successful campaign. If you like, write a mock article from the future reporting on your dream.

Solidarity: Some young Iranians organize a grassroots protest against laws that force all Iranian women to cover their hair in public. Inspired by Rosa Parks, the protestors take a simple yet provocative nonviolent action: They walk down the street uncovered. A brutal crackdown ensues. What do you do?
Viral Video: You have been given $1,000 to make a short video (1-4 minutes) about individual rights in the Mideast. Share the script for your video, which can expose repression, showcase a campaign, or dream of a better future. bonus: Make the film and provide a YouTube link.

If you live in the Middle East...
Your Story: How does civil rights abuse in your local community impact you? Share a defining moment where you experienced civil rights restrictions (censorship, discrimination, etc.). How did this incident change you? Will your children's generation still face such repression?

Freedom: Given the historic changes in the Mideast over the past year, do you feel more or less free? Reflect on changes in the region and in your local community. Explain, with examples, whether you enjoy greater rights today than a year ago. Do you expect to be more free a year from now?

In the Streets: If you participated in grassroots protests against repression during the past year, why did you join and what did you learn? Describe in vivid detail what you experienced, as well as how your life - and your attitude on individual rights - has changed. What challenges remain now?

Advocacy: How can individual rights be secured in the Mideast’s new reality? Dictators may have fallen, yet individual rights remain fragile. What can you do to protect the rights of vulnerable members in your local community (women, minorities, etc.)? Propose a concrete action plan.

Dream: What is your “dream deferred”: a vision of your society with civil rights for all? Share your dream of a civil rights movement in your community. If you like, write a mock newspaper article from the future reporting on the effort.

Film Fest: In 2008, an essay contest winner organized the first-ever Cairo Human Rights Film Festival. When authorities blocked theatres from hosting screening, she held the opening on a Nile River boat. Be inspired and share your vision for a similar festival in your community: What films will you show? How will you overcome obstacles?

Viral Video: You have been given $1,000 to make a short video (1-4 minutes) about individual rights in your society. Share the script, which can expose repression, showcase a campaign or dream of a better future. Bonus: Make the film and provide a YouTube link.

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Entrants must be 25 years old or younger as of the contest deadline: May 27, 2012
Entrants must reside in Arab League member states, Iran, Afghanistan, or the United States
There is no minimum age requirement, and entrants do not need to be students

Check out other essay contests for which you may be eligible.