Here are the second- and third-place high school essays in the 2023 Arkansas Peace Week contest.

These essays represent the opinions of their authors, not that of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A few have have been edited to add clarifying punctuation; in one essay, identifying information in the account of a crime has been replaced with brackets or ellipses.

  • 10th grade second place
  • Reducing Violence
  • Keira McKinley
  • White Hall High School

We all want peace, don’t we? Whether it’s peace in our personal lives or peace on a global scale, the desire for a more peaceful world is something that unites us all. Unfortunately, peace is often elusive, and we are confronted with violence, conflict, and injustice on a daily basis. However, the fact that we continue to strive for peace is a testament to our resilience and our hope for a better future. We all agree on wanting peace, but how do we reduce violence?

In terms of reducing violence in Arkansas, there are a few things that can be done. One is to increase access to mental health resources, as many acts of violence can be linked to mental health issues. Another is to invest in education and job training programs, as poverty and lack of opportunity can contribute to violence. Additionally, community-based programs that promote conflict resolution and restorative justice can help reduce violence.

Violence has had a significant impact on Arkansas, as it has on many other states. According to statistics from the Arkansas State Police, there were 31,443 violent crimes reported in Arkansas in 2020, including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. These crimes have a devastating effect on individuals and communities, causing physical and emotional harm, as well as economic and social costs. Violence has even started to affect our schools. There are school fights happening more often as the school year goes by.

Violence has also had an negative impact on my life. I am scared to go to school every day. There have been many school shootings and threats of all sorts to schools all over Arkansas. It makes me scared not knowing if I will be safe at a place I am suppose to learn at. As a women, going out around town alone is scary, too. Women look like easy targets to men, get cat called, have men follow them, and have a great chance of being taken advantage of or murdered.

Ultimately, reducing violence requires a multifaceted approach that involves addressing the root causes of violence and providing support to those who are affected by it. It’s a complex issue that requires a lot of work, but it’s important to keep working towards a more peaceful and safe society.

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  • 10th grade third place
  • The Truth about Arkansas
  • Aynslea Stokes
  • Southside School District

The crime rates in Arkansas are rising dramatically. Arkansas has the nation’s fourth highest rate of violent crimes. It makes me uneasy to know that where I live is typically unsafe. I think the community of Arkansas are concerned; concerned for their friends, family, children, etc.

Apparent causes of the crime in Arkansas are mental illnesses, poverty and substance abuse. People can lose control of their emotions and feel the need to harm people. Sometimes people are struggling with money so they commit crimes. People on drugs can do bad things without being completely in control of themselves. Some solutions can be better access to therapy and rehab and more resources to food banks and homeless shelters.

Mental illnesses have been statistically proven to affect one’s mindset. It can cause someone to act without thinking. It can cause violent tendencies and paranoia. People struggling with mental health who don’t have access to adequate treatment could easily make bad decisions leading to violence and committing crimes. People who are mentally unwell can cause harm to people without entirely wanting or meaning to.

People need access to therapy and medications to be able to clear their mindset and allow them to let their feelings be heard. This way they don’t have to be forced to make bad decisions because they believe that nothing truly matters.

People who are in poverty can end up going hungry, losing their homes, etc. They find that sometimes the only way to survive is committing crimes to be able to help themselves. Sometimes for them it’s the only option: they don’t have jobs, they don’t have shelter or food. In order to feed themselves and have money for the necessities, they feel like violence is the only way.

This is why we need better resources for people that are struggling with money. Better food banks to help so they don’t go hungry, homeless shelters so they have somewhere to stay, and people to help them find jobs, so they can get back on their feet.

People get themselves addicted to different types of drugs and they convince themselves that they need it. They can lose control of themselves, and they hurt people for money so they can keep getting their fix. They rob people and they steal because they think all they need is their drugs. They are addicted, meaning they can’t just quit, so the crimes will continue.

This is why we need better access to rehab. If we can have people help people who are addicted to drugs and we can get them to stop, they can recover and find better versions of themselves. In conclusion, in order to bring down the rising numbers of violent crime in Arkansas, we need to help people that are mentally ill, in poverty, and addicted to substances. We need to have better resources to be able to help these people, such as therapy and medication access, rehab, and access to good food banks and free homeless shelters.

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  Gallery: Arkansas Peace Week art

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  • 11th grade second place
  • It’s Time to Make a Difference
  • Ava Gillespie
  • Russellville High School

One moment I was just an excited five year old kid sitting in my mom’s van with my whole family on our way to the Hot Springs water park. Next thing I knew we were quickly pulling into the parking lot of the motel where we were gonna spend the night. Jess, my sister, opens the door to where I was sitting and takes me out my car seat onto her hip. Then squats down behind our van, and tells me to be still and quiet. Little did I know that there was a shooting going on near us. Everyone else was absolutely terrified yet I was just an oblivious kid who had no idea that was happening. Recently my family thought I was mature enough to know what had happened. Since my brain was so traumatized that I had blocked it out completely. I felt absolutely horrible for my sister, though, who at the time of the shooting was just seventeen, and had to become an adult in that moment to make sure we would make it out alive. No teenager should ever be put in that position.

According to Arkansas currently has the 15th highest rate in the nation of gun violence. In an average year here 631 people die and 823 people have wounds from guns. These deaths increased by 40% from 2012-2021. Arkansas also has the 11th-highest societal cost of gun violence in the U.S. at $2,705 per resident each year. Gun deaths and injuries cost Arkansas $8.2 billion each year, of which $181.4 million is paid by taxpayers. Arkansas has the 10th highest rate of gun homicides and gun assaults in the U.S. Every year, an average of 250 people in Arkansas die by gun homicides and 291 are wounded by gun assaults. Which is a rate of 8.8 homicides and 9.6 assaults per 100,000 people. Guns are the leading cause of death among children and teens in Arkansas. In Arkansas, an average of 61 children and teens die by guns every year.

As a teen who lives in this state it’s terrifying to know these hard truths.

We have to do something about it. It can’t be allowed to stay like this or else it’s gonna go too far. The number one thing we can do is be aware and make sure others are aware as well. Teens can join the group called Students Demand Action. If you’re concerned mom there is a group called Moms Demand Action, Arkansas chapter. We need to join these so we can help ensure safety. One thing these groups advocate for is to make it absolutely necessary that background checks are always happening before being able to purchase a firearm. They also promote help for mental health. Over 10 million people have joined these groups nationwide. If we come together we really can be the difference.

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  • 11th grade third place
  • The Impact of Violence
  • Abigail Myrick
  • Guy Perkins High School

In 2022, Arkansas was ranked 4th in the nation’s highest crime rate. The crime here in Arkansas is getting worse by the day, affecting thousands of citizens who have lost someone or who have been impacted themselves. Acts of violence have touched lives in more ways than one. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it would be like to lose someone you love to something that we can potentially prevent. Well, I didn’t have to imagine, nor did our communities. Violence can be prevented, we just have to band together with the chance of saving lives.

A story that I will never forget that impacted my family’s lives occurred … when my grandfather’s youngest son was murdered. My [step-uncle’s] wife was involved with another man who happened to be a park ranger. One day, the park ranger showed up at my late step uncle’s door, shot and killed him in the doorway of his own home holding his two-year-old son in his arms. [His] son survived, but his father wasn’t that lucky.

There was an investigation of this heinous crime, but because the police were involved, the investigation wasn’t done properly and there were no charges made against the park ranger or the other police officers. … It caused pain in our family having no closure to someone loved by so many. I never got to meet my step-uncle, his son grew up without a father in his life, and my grandfather lost his youngest son. I have always wondered what it would have been like if he was still here today, if he would be proud of his son, or if he would have divorced his wife for her affair. I will never get the answer I am looking for because someone else dictated my step-uncle’s life.

There are many measures that you yourself can take to prevent and stop violence from happening to you. Tell someone, take a stand, and protect others. Preventing these crimes can be tricky, but with the right solutions, anything is possible. Having gun control, setting up a neighborhood watch program, and increasing funding for community health clinics and trauma recovery centers, would be a great start in the process of preventing violence from impacting others lives while also helping those who have been impacted.

You have a choice, help to prevent violence or continue to ratify violence impacting someone and their families, something you can never take back. Something you will have to live with for the rest of your life, a guilty conscience always in the back of your mind just waiting to remind you of what you’ve done. Acts of violence take people from their families and friends, your actions determine yours and another person’s fate. Violence could happen to anyone or any family regardless of social or economic status, or race.

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  • 12th grade second place
  • The Violence That Hides
  • Kaylah Atungulu
  • Haas Hall Academy at the Jones Center

My friend’s roommate was held at knifepoint a few nights ago. I ask my friend if she is now scared to walk through the streets of her college. She tells me that she keeps pepper spray in her purse. I tell her that she should be more scared. I tell my girls to text me when they get home. I tell them to keep their heads on a swivel whenever they are walking alone. I don’t have to tell my boys that. Whenever I work in childcare, I tell the boys to keep their hands to themselves. I have not yet had to tell a girl that.

As women, walking through the streets seems like an extreme sport. It often feels like a gamble of whether or not we are going to make it home. Sexual violence and sexual harassment is an issue that many people, specifically women have been forced to confront. Women have been targeted for ads that feature colour-coordinated key chains that hold window breakers, seat belt cutters, and some pepper spray for safe measure. Being a woman is no longer associated with a sisterhood, but it is rather associated with simply trying to survive in a world that seems to be built against them.

In my community, we have had to form support systems and accountability partners so that we can walk alone at night. The culture of womanhood has shifted due to this violence. Sexual violence has forced some people to constantly be terrified of walking down the street.

In order to reduce this violence in Arkansas, state political leaders should push for education regarding sexual assault, harassment, and violence in schools. This should be a topic that is exposed in our high school health classes. According to Women & Children First of Arkansas, 33.7% of women have experienced sexual assault in Arkansas. This is 33.7% too many women. Likewise, 35.6% of men have experienced sexual assault in Arkansas. Again, this statistic is disheartening. We, as a community, have normalized the idea that we are going to be unsafe in public spaces, but this should not stand.

At an appropriate age, the children in this community should be educated on what sexual violence can look like and how to prevent it. While it is upsetting, we should arm the children with the knowledge and the resources to fight against sexual, emotional, and physical violence.

Some people believe that sexual violence is not too alarming. However, intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of crime in Arkansas, and this is not including sexual violence that is not inflicted by an intimate partner. If it is 15% in Arkansas, which has the 4th highest rate of crime, then it could be greater in other states and other communities.

It should become a priority to protect our parents, siblings, and friends. It is a human right to be feel safe. Sexual violence is not only a crime against women, but a crime against humanity as a whole.

  photo  Twelfth grade third place, “Peace for All” by Kamma Reed, Jessieville High School. (Photo courtsey of Arkansas Peace Week)  

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  • 12th grade third place
  • My Vision of Peace
  • Kennedi Scaife
  • eStem High School

Although I attend school in Little Rock, AR, I’ve been a resident in the city of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for approximately 5 years now. In my community, there has been a surge of homicides mainly within our youth population. On a weekly basis, I sadly witness the news of young lives being taken away. My peers are either the victims or perpetrators.

This issue is near and dear to my heart because many of the victims are former classmates when I attended the Pine Bluff School District. There are no words to express the pain when describing devastating news about the death of someone who you shared childhood experiences and memories with. Watching my peers die at such a high rate signifies that violence has no color, and death is closer than we choose to admit.

Many lives have been tarnished due to these crimes, and communities are being divided because people have grown quiet and are afraid to speak up from the horrendous acts of violence in our community. There is no one solution to solving this ongoing issue because there are a variety of considerations that need to be considered prior to analyzing what the real problems are.

First, many parents are unaware of the whereabouts of their children. Many crimes take place during time periods when the parent/guardian is either at work or not receiving accurate information on where he/she child is currently located. Prevention measures start with communication. Parents need to take structured measures by communicating with their children and being aware of the places that they go and who they are being accompanied with. I feel that adults shouldn’t be afraid to ask for assistance or resources to help this measure be successful.

Peer pressure is another factor that is taking a huge toll on my peers. The need to fit in or being loyal to your street family is costing our youth their lives and freedom.

Secondly, the community must come together and find solutions to end these crimes as well. The longer the community continues to be silent and not speak up, the more crime will increase throughout the year(s). We need positive outlets such as non-profit violence prevention organizations. These organizations will be a great benefit because it will help educate our community on ways to properly solve conflict without it furthering into the means of hurting yourself or someone else. In addition, it would keep individuals of the community off the “streets” and in an active and safe program that is designed to help them look forward to their future.

We also need to see more positive adult figures. The most effective would be individuals who could relate to our youth on a personal level. Those who have either committed or were victims to violence. Community health fairs, job fairs and food pantries should be an added incentive, because my peers are choosing a life of crime due to lack of resources as well.