Do the Write Thing Co-Chair Judge Dwayne D. Woodruff shakes Durelle Ward’s hand after announcing that Ward won first place in the anti-violence campaign’s essay contest. (Photo courtesy Cooper Media)

When the MC of the Do the Write Thing Challenge award ceremony on June 16 announced that East Deutschtown eighth grader Durelle Ward’s essay about how violence has impacted him won first place, his mother had a total “mom moment,” she said.

Do The Write Thing Challenge is part of a national campaign that gives middle school students the chance to let their voices be heard through their experiences with violence in their lives. This campaign also helps teachers open up to their students about anti-violence or how violent situations can be prevented.

Ward, along with the female winner, Nina Nelly Kowalewski, will join other national ambassadors of each participating city to be recognized this summer at the 2011 Do the Write Thing National Recognition week in Washington, D.C., where the students will have an opportunity to discuss violence issues and meet important policymakers.

“I finally feel like all of my hard work is paying off,” Ward’s mother, Kenya Sheppard, said. “I’m a single mother and I feel like I am doing the right thing in the way that I’m raising him.”

Ward accepted his award and smiled at the students, parents and teachers that filled the August Wilson Center auditorium. Then he and the female winner read their essays out loud to the audience

In a phone interview, Ward said that his essay talked about all of the people who fought against racism and slavery, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ward lives on Madison Avenue, just off of East Ohio Street, and recently completed eighth grade at Sterrett Classical Academy of the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Ward and Kowalewski competed in a pool of 1,399 students from Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Woodland Hills School District for this initiative of the National Campaign to Stop Violence. Ward and Kowalewski also won laptop computers donated by the Center for Inclusion at UPMC for their winning essays.

Southwest Airlines and Kuwait America Foundation will sponsor the trip to Washington, D.C. and pay all expenses for the winners, who also received prizes from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Giant Eagle.

Judge Dwayne D. Woodruff co-chaired the event with his wife Joy Maxberry Woodruff.

The judges also honored 110 students for their essays. All of the recognized essays will be made into a book that will be put on display in the United States Library of Congress.

 Dusquene University Law students and University of Pittsburgh students judged the preliminary round and narrowed the pool to 60 essays. The challenge’s Black and Gold Committee, comprised of notable figures such as Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II, and County Executive Dan Onorato, among others.

Ward said he is excited about the upcoming Washington D.C. trip.

“I’m looking forward to meeting the senators and talking to them about violence and what they will do to stop it, and how I could help,” Ward said.

Ashley Goodsell graduated from Point Park University this year with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She was co-sports editor for Point Park’s newspaper and plans on attending graduate school for communications or advertising.