There is absolutely nothing we can say to change or mitigate the horror of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 elementary-school children and two teachers dead on Tuesday—another Sandy Hook 10 years after we swore “never again.” But a 10th-grader’s essay crossed our desk this week that spoke to the fears and danger that so many children in this country face almost daily. Khaleel Wright, a winner of this year’s Young Readers Prize, an essay-writing contest held by the Harvard Library of New York, wrote about his real-life nightmares and also his dreams. —G.C.
I recalled the alarming sound of consistent gunfire outside my small apartment complex. My mother anxiously barged into my room, leaving no time for interpretation of the situation going on around me. “Are you O.K.? Are you O.K.?” she frantically asked. I was surprised by her abrupt invasion into my shared room. I could see that expression on her face. Her eyes opened wide, looking like a deer in headlights staring at me. She was worried. She felt inconsolable at heart because of the fact that we were stuck in this position and couldn’t escape.
Overall, though, the room wasn’t flooded with this sorrow, but was filled, more or less, with love and delight. It wasn’t something that needed to be said; inside we both knew this place didn’t make the people but rather the people made the place. The sound of the police sirens drags us back to the black-framed window. As my mother and I crouched at the small window, watching officers running back and forth, I wondered why anyone would do this.
The next day, my mother started to make me read. I stress the word “made” because inside it really did feel like a punishment. At first, she told me she didn’t just want me to live in a better environment but to thrive. I suppose reading was her tool to complete that mission.
As my mother and I crouched at the small window, watching officers running back and forth, I wondered why anyone would do this.
After some time and days of resentment, I finally allowed myself to be captured, reached in the bottom of my book bag, and found a book called Zeus. From the moment I finished it I fell in love. I understood what my mom really wanted; she wanted me to be engulfed in the emotions that reading can have on a person. I felt enlightened at this warming epiphany.
Zeus’s father was the monster shooting outside my window; my mom, brother, and uncle were the nymphs, blazing delight in my sanctuary. When Zeus was born, his father sought to consume him like the rest of his siblings, but his mother and grandmother plotted against Cronus, Zeus’s father, and deceived him. They sent Zeus somewhere safe, an environment where he could lose himself in his training and be drowned by love and happiness rather than by terror and pain, much like me.
Days when I experience pain, I write. Pretending to make up gods, like me and Zeus surrounded by the enemy, by the darkness, but not letting the darkness overcome us. Reading sparks imagination; it allows us to experience stories that develop how we think by expanding what we know.
Before I picked up reading, I didn’t really know anything about Greek mythology. Now I’m dreaming about being on Olympus.
The Young Readers Prize is presented by the Harvard Library of New York and open to all New York City public- and charter-school 10th-grade students. Prizewinners are selected based on brief essays related to their love of reading
Khaleel Wright is a 10th-grade student at Democracy Prep Charter High School, in Harlem. He is 16 years old