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The youth of today can make a difference: EP students write for racial justice

After seeing the video footage of George Floyd’s murder, Ashritha Katamneni was shocked. 

Seeing racist-fueled actions so graphically displayed was a jarring experience. So much that it sparked an interest in learning more about the history of systemic racism in America.

This February, Ashritha Katamneni, an eighth grade student at EP Online, won the Martin Luther King Jr. Words in Action Contest, presented by the Eden Prairie City Council. Out of 35 submissions, the council chose four winning entries, and Ashritha’s essay, “Justice Does Not Just Happen,” was one of them. 

In addition to Ashritha’s essay, Alec Boudreau, fifth grade student at Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion, Akshaya Ramanujam, fourth grade student at Eden Lake Elementary, and Spandan Datta, eighth grade student at Central Middle School, also won awards for their essays.

Ashritha's submission is designed to inspire others to action in the fight for racial justice. However, as her title suggests, that action can be difficult — and those who take it, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., often face obstacles. Since the Civil Rights Era, Ashritha argues, “little has been done to implement big thoughts and ideas,” and this was made particularly apparent after the murder of George Floyd and the challenge and controversy that ensued afterward. 

Ashritha’s passion for writing sprung from feelings of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. She found that she had more free time to explore passions, and one of those passions became writing. As an EP Online student, Ashritha often did her work online and then after finishing, would search for writing prompts. This is where she became aware of the Words in Action Contest. 

Yvette Toko, an English teacher for EP Online and Central Middle School, encourages students to participate in writing contests to develop their skills. Toko has been a big influence on Ashritha throughout her time in EP Online. 

“She’s always there for us when we have any questions. She’s known from the beginning that I would like to do more with writing and reading," Ashritha said. "She was really happy that I wanted to do this contest.”

When Ashritha told her that she’d like to enter the contest, Toko felt proud.

“Ashritha is intentional with everything she does and that’s what I really appreciate about her as a student,” Toko said. 

Toko has been a teacher for 20 years, and has worked in several different countries like Cameroon and Togo. She’s been at Central Middle School since 2017. 

Toko enjoys having fun in her classroom, while also giving her students encouragement to try new things, such as participating in writing contests or other forums. Toko likes to inspire each student, like Ashritha, to push the boundaries on what they think is possible for them academically. 

“Ashritha shows up every time with a positive attitude, she loves learning and will seek out the things she likes to do,” Toko said.  “I really enjoy having her in class.”To watch Ashritha presenting her essay “Justice Does Not Just Happen,” visit the Eden Prairie City Council website

View all of the Martin Luther King Jr. Words in Action Contest winners.