Richard Boykin with members of his education committee and children from the Martin Luther King branch of the Chicago YMCA. (Michael Romain/Staff)

First District Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin has launched essay, art and slogan contests for 1st District students grades 3-12.

The “Art and Slogan” contest is open to all 3rd to 8th grade students who live in the 1st District of Cook County. Prizes include $100 for 3rd place, $250 for 2nd place and $500 for 1st place illustrations.

Students are asked to “create an original slogan with accompanying art work, drawing and/or depiction that encompasses the idea of “Be Heard: One vote can change the world.”

All 1st District high school students are invited to participate in the essay contest. Prizes include $500 for 3rd place, $750 for 2nd place and $1,000 for 1st place essays. Students are asked to explain, “Why do we still face such low voter turnout during elections throughout the country today? How could local, state, and governmental entities make voting more attractive and accessible to its citizens?”

Boykin unveiled the fun initiative on March 6, at the Boys and Girls Club’s Martin Luther King branch, 2950 W. Washington Street in Chicago. The initiative, the commissioner said, has both symbolic and practical importance.

March 7th was the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the violent confrontation between civil rights marchers and Alabama State troopers that took place on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.

According to blackpast.org, “Six hundred marchers assembled in Selma on Sunday, March 7, and, led by John Lewis and other (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) activists, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River en route to Montgomery. Just short of the bridge, they found their way blocked by Alabama state troopers and local police who ordered them to turn around. When the protesters refused, the officers shot teargas and waded into the crowd, beating the nonviolent protesters with billy clubs and ultimately hospitalizing over 50 people.”

That confrontation would ultimately prove a signature impetus for passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“Many people died for us to have the right to vote,” Boykin said to a giddy crowd of about 50 grade school children in the club’s gymnasium. “They gave up their lives, their blood, their sweat, their tears, so that they could have the right to vote.”

Boykin said he hopes the contests will help increase the voter turnout rate in both his district and throughout the county. He added that, perhaps, the children can prod their parents and elders to vote. In Chicago’s Feb. 24 mayoral election, a near-record low of 32.7 percent of registered voters turned up at the polls.

Fore information on contest deadlines and criteria, please call (312) 603-4566, or email richard.boykin@cookcountyil.gov.

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com