Last week, six representatives from the Youth Document Durham program went to Washington, D.C., to receive a Coming Up Taller Award. We were chosen, along with 10 other programs in the U.S. and two programs in Mexico, out of 368 nominees nationwide. The Coming Up Taller Award is an award for programs that do outstanding projects with and for young people in the arts and humanities. The groups and programs were selected by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. We were presented the award by Laura Bush and actress Debbie Allen.

Youth Document Durham is a summer and after-school program, for young people age 12-15, at the Center for Documentary Studies. We use photography, interviewing, writing, discussion, and audio to document different aspects of being a teen in Durham. We get chances to explore issues surrounding race, class, culture, and everything else that is important to us. Youth Document Durham gives us a chance to voice our opinions about issues that we are usually not given the opportunity to talk about.

Overall we had a great time visiting the sights of Washington, D.C., and hanging out in our swanky hotel. We got to tour the Library of Congress, interview a sound engineer from National Public Radio, be interviewed by news reporters, go out to dinner, walk the city and some of us rode the Metro for the first time. Although each of us felt honored to be chosen to represent the program and to receive the award, we discovered how the public image of politicians is formed through events like the Coming Up Taller Awards. Driving back to Durham, we talked about our perspectives on the trip to D.C., the awards ceremony, and how it helped shape our opinions about how we as youth are really valued by adults.
– Sakina Taylor and Lena Eckert-Erdheim

When I found out we won this award I freaked out. I was so happy to be one of the six representatives chosen to go to the Coming Up Taller Awards. I felt very proud because it’s hard to be outstanding in this world. I felt proud, but at the awards ceremony it didn’t feel that great. I thought, wow, the First Lady, but it wasn’t like that. I thought maybe she was there for the media and wanted them to think she was being a good First Lady, caring about the youth. Most of the people there were adults and I didn’t like that. But overall, I appreciated the award because it’s only once in a lifetime that you get an award like this.
– Aaron Garcia, 14, Riverside High School

The room where the awards ceremony took place was packed with a lot of adults in business suits. For a ceremony that was supposed to recognize youth, there were a lot of grown-ups. Most of them appeared to know nothing about the programs receiving the award. Maybe they were just there to see Laura Bush. But even the First Lady didn’t seem very interested in why programs like Youth Document Durham are important. She just smiled.
– Lena Eckert-Erdheim, 13, Ann Atwater Community School

At the ceremony only one youth and one adult were permitted to go on stage. I was the youth who was chosen to represent YDD and pick up the award with Barbara Lau. It was really exciting going up to the stage, getting the award from the First Lady and being treated like a famous star with a lot of people taking pictures. But I also felt bad because all my other youth members and teacher had to sit in the back and couldn’t really see the ceremony.
–Magdalena Martinez, 15, Southern High School

It was a great honor for us to be picked out of over 60 other people in YDD. But, the awards ceremony lacked the heart. The speeches were straight out of the book, although Debbie Allen did try to loosen people up. It is wonderful that people would want to do something for youth, but it seemed like they were just skimming the top, just acting like they cared. But if you take out the speeches, wooden smiles, and suits you just might have maybe the skeleton of what today’s youth are about.
–Sakina Taylor, 15, Kestrel Heights Charter School

I feel proud that we were chosen out of all of the youth organizations nationwide to receive this award. I wanted to know what else the NEA and President’s Committee are trying to do to create more youth programs. It would have been nice to talk to the people who were giving the award and tell them how we felt about what we were doing, what is going on with youth today, and what we need.
–Imhotep Mujahid, 14, Kestrel Heights Charter School

Although I very much appreciated them giving us the award, I never felt they explained why we got it and didn’t really get right what we did in the program. This made me feel a little under-appreciated. However, I still think we deserved getting the award and I very much enjoyed going on the trip.
–Linder Willeford, 14, Ann Atwater Community School