“Your Voice” Essay Contest Focuses on Dangers of Repeating History’s Hate by Engaging Students Across Illinois

SPRINGFIELD — History provides powerful lessons about the dangers of hate and intolerance. We must aim to learn from them and not repeat those same dangerous mistakes.

The Mobile Museum of Tolerance, created by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, hopes this message resonates in school districts across Illinois this spring as part of its latest “Your Voice: Changing the World, One Speech at a Time” statewide essay contest, for students from 6th through 12th grades. The Illinois Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes is sponsoring the essay contest as part of its support of the mission of the MMOT.

The contest asks students to respond to these words from Simon Wiesenthal: “The history of man is the history of crimes, and history can repeat. So information is a defense against repetition.” Submissions, via a three-minute speech of 450 words or less, are due Friday, March 22. First-place winners in each category will receive a MacBook, with other prizes for the runners-up.

The Your Voice contest asks Illinois students from 6th through 12th grade to:

  • Write a three-minute written speech (of 450 words maximum) on how this Wiesenthal quote applies to them, and ways we must be proactive to address intolerance, hate, and bigotry
  • Submit the speech/essay in a Word document by Friday, March 22, 2024, to: mmot@wiesenthal.com. Submissions must include the name and age of contestant, name of contestant’s school and contact details for the contestant.\

Five finalists from each category (Grades 6-8 and Grades 9-12) will be chosen on March 29 to compete virtually on April 14 by performing their speech/essay in video submissions virtually. A distinguished panel of judges will review the submissions and select winners.

Organizers say the rise in hatred and extremist behavior targeting people of many ethnic and religious backgrounds underscores the need for more awareness and proactive action by young people to fight hate and intolerance.

“As time passes, we forget the immense pain our ancestors have suffered through at the hands of zealots who destroyed lives and created misery,” said Alison Pure-Slovin, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Midwest Region. “The goal of the MMOT and our work in schools and communities across the state is to help people recognize the threats around them and take meaningful steps to stop them. We had many powerful submissions in last year’s contest and are excited to see the creativity and deep personal conviction driving this year’s participants.”

Simon Wiesenthal was a survivor of the Nazi death camps in World War II who dedicated his life to documenting Holocaust crimes and working to hold those accountable for ghastly genocide.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization headquartered in Los Angeles, runs a number of programs out of its Midwest Office in Chicago. The Midwest Office partners with law enforcement agents to educate officers about hate-based threats, coordinates visits to numerous school districts across Illinois where state legislators often attend to learn more about the MMOT, and facilitates workshops designed to help students and adults better identify and stand up to hate and intolerance in their communities.

The first of its kind in the United States, the MMOT is a traveling human rights education center that visits school districts statewide, free of charge, to offer hands-on workshops for participating students. The workshops include an emphasis on our nation’s civil rights movement and history, the harrowing story of Nazi persecution through Anne Frank’s experience in World War II, the power of ordinary people to stand up against life-threatening hatred, and an introduction to digital media literacy. A new Combat Hate workshop, the first to be instructed directly in school classrooms in Illinois, is now gaining popularity.

Media literacy is mandated to be taught in Illinois schools. Under the MMOT digital media literacy program, students receive tools to identify and analyze potentially harmful media, stand up against hate and violence online, and work through ways to be a positive influence on social media.

For more on the essay contest and the MMOT, visit the MMOT’s website at https://mmot.com/, or follow MMOT on social media. Last year’s contest winners and details are here: https://mmot.com/your-voice/2023-2/.