Of the hundreds of entries we see every year for our Black History Heroes Challenge, presented by Sprite, there are always a handful that leave our staff proud and amazed at what young people in this state can achieve with some thought and inspiration.
While we love seeing the sheer number of students who continue to find a personal connection with black leaders throughout history, the ones that live on in our hearts always seem to be the entries that discuss a hero in a student’s own life – someone who’s making history today.
Two of our five winners for the 2015 contest, Macyn Neuschaefer and Logan Markham, had stories to tell about someone they know personally – friends of theirs who didn’t know the impact they were having on people they see every day.
Macyn and Gabrielle are best friends who met when the two girls were in the same first-grade class. Now in third grade, the students at Angie Debo Elementary in Edmond seem as though they’ve been friends forever. Both the girls came to Sunday’s game as Macyn got her award for the top Black History Heroes Challenge entry for the second/third grade category. But from watching their shared excitement, you might guess that both girls had won the contest.
And in a way, you’d be right.
For her entry, Macyn wrote an essay about Gabrielle and how their friendship is a tribute to what civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks fought to achieve.
Macyn said that, when she thought about entering the Thunder contest, “I was at first going to do it on someone that was important in history. Then I decided that Gabrielle was right there, and she was important to me.”
For Logan, a student at Jenks West Elementary, he was focused from the start on telling the story of Emeka Nnaka. The two met at the Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, a Tulsa facility that offers recreation, rehabilitative services and community reintegration programs for its members, all of whom face a mobility, dexterity or sensory impairment.
Emeka, who works out at the center’s gym, watched a talent show that included Logan’s sister’s dance team. “We started talking and hanging out,” said Logan, a fourth-grader whose quiet nature complements Emeka’s ready smile and encouraging spirit.
Meeting Emeka now, it’s difficult to know whether his life-changing injury – a broken neck sustained on the field while he was a semi-pro football player – altered anything other than his physical abilities. But it’s easy to see why Logan could become so admiring of his friend.
“Since [the injury], I’ve dedicated my life to, basically, living the love and impacting as many people as I can around me, not taking for granted the people that are in my life,” Emeka said.
Logan and his sister both entered the contest with collages and essays that talked about Emeka. They met him at the center one day and surprised him with their tributes.
“The biggest thing it showed me is just how big of an impact somebody can make when you’re not even paying attention,” Emeka noted. “Someone is watching, so do the best you can with what you’ve got where you are.”
In addition to sharing in Logan’s award on Sunday night, Logan and Emeka shared a milestone together, as both were attending their first Thunder game.
WATCH VIDEO of Logan and Emeka
The crux of the Black History Heroes Challenge is for students to find a creative way to show that they’ve made a personal connection with their chosen hero. Logan and Emeka, and Macyn and Gabrielle, took the challenge a step further – reminding us all that history and heroes are not things that belong to the past; they live among us.
– Karina Henderson