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WMHS student wins first place in 2023 Northwestern State essay contest

Posted Date: 09/22/2023

WMHS student wins first place in 2023 Northwestern State essay contest

West Monroe High School senior Madison Jackson recently won first place in the 2023 Northwestern State University High School Essay Contest.

Jackson’s essay “Suppressing Systemic Racism One Step at a Time: The Housing Crisis in Louisiana” won her a $200 per semester NSU Scholarship, and she will read her essay this Saturday at the 15th Annual Louisiana Studies Conference in Natchitoches.

The contest was open to all Louisiana students in grades 9-12, and Jackson was the only entrant from north Louisiana to place, taking home the top prize. Contest entrants were invited to address the following prompt: “Imagine yourself in 20 years. What is your occupation? How does your work improve Louisiana?”

“I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 10, so I knew I wanted to talk about that, but being a lawyer, I feel it’s very subjective on what you want to do with that practice,” Jackson said. “I wanted to write an essay on how practicing law myself would benefit everybody, not just the elite people or people with money, but regular people like me.”

Although Jackson was born in 2006, she has taken a sincere interest in Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of New Orleans and the surrounding areas in August 2005. The Category 5 hurricane caused damages estimated in the billions.

“I had a lot of family impacted by Hurricane Katrina, and not just my family, but many families in south Louisiana who were impacted, and many of them still do not have the resources to get back on their feet,” Jackson said. “I just thought it was crazy that certain demographics and certain areas of people were not getting the help they deserved just because they were different, based on skin color, their gender or whatever type of minority they were, and I felt as though that wasn’t fair.”

When Jackson’s AP U.S. History teacher Mrs. Melissa Shepard first shared the contest details with her class this past spring, Jackson initially pushed it to the side due to her class schedule and work load.

However, once spring break rolled around, she picked it back up and spent the time away from school to do more research.

“I did a lot of research on housing laws and housing discrimination in Louisiana,” Jackson said. “I also did research on district zones on housing, and a lot of it was still in the red – like not taken care of, and it dated back to Hurricane Katrina. I was just like, ‘This is crazy. That was almost 17 years ago, and we’re still not fixing this.’ We are focused on other things.”

The more Jackson researched, the more passionate she became about her voice being heard through her essay. She knew adults had voiced their opinions over the years, but maybe it would be different coming from a 17-year old.

“I knew I was going to raise some eyebrows when I put that as my title and talked about that in my essay, and that’s definitely what I wanted to do – shake things up, stir the pot a little – and really make people think what’s right and wrong and what needs to be fixed,” Jackson.

Jackson is unsure where she will go to college. She is looking at out of state, but said Northwestern State and Tulane are also on her list if she stays in Louisiana. As she pursues a law degree, Jackson plans to focus on contract law or civil law.

“Something that very heavily focuses on the people of the country and not just the elite people of the country,” Jackson said. “I definitely want to focus on the people and not just who I saw every day, but who I could reach out to and impact in a positive way.”

This weekend will be the first time Jackson has addressed a large audience when she reads her essay at the Louisiana Studies Conference. She said the closest she’s had to an audience is when she participated in Mock Trial as a junior at West Monroe High School. The conference will be held on the campus of Northwestern State in the Creative and Performing Arts Complex, beginning at 9:30 a.m.

"I have read the high school essays for several years now and it brings me great pride to know Louisiana high school students are thinking about topics such as financial literacy, the state housing crisis, and systemic racism," said Jason Church, Chief of Technical Services at the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training and co-chair of the contest. "After reading this year's essays and feeling the student's concern for our future and their passion for wanting to be part of the change that makes this state great, I know that we are leaving our state's future in great hands."