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Shawnee community gathers to honor RBG, empower young women

Elisabeth Slay
The Shawnee News-Star
South Rock Creek sixth grader and 12-year-old essay finalist Isabelle O’Daniel admiring a piece from Shawnee artist LeAnne Henry Wright's "I Dissent." art show.
All who walked in the RBG event standing in front of the Pottawatomie County Courthouse.
Rachel Melot and mentee: Mentor Rachel Melot with essay contest finalist Abbi Frentz.
Erin Bailey Jones Speaking at the Ruth Bader Ginsburg event.
Mentor Kathy Laster with essay contest finalist Margot Davidson.
Shawnee artist LeAnne Henry Wright with guest speaker Erin Bailey Jones and four essay contest finalists.
County Commissioner and mentor Melissa Dennis with essay contest finalist Reese Leone, fellow mentor Paulann Canty and essay contest finalist Estelle Lilite.

From ballet flats to sneakers and even snake skin boots, various people gathered and walked together on Election Day to celebrate current and future female community leaders and to honor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  

According to Shawnee artist LeAnne Henry Wright, in honor of the passing of her grandmother and of RBG, she was inspired to empower the young women of Shawnee with an "Unapologetic Essay Contest."  

After receiving numerous submissions from young women in two categories, fifth to eighth and ninth to twelfth, Henry Wright said 20 finalists were announced and on Tuesday, Nov. 3, they were honored for their inspiring stories and powerful voices.  

"I think it was amazing I was just so encouraged by truly the whole community coming together," Henry Wright said. 

Destin Rogers from Shawnee High School and Alivia Wapskineh from Pleasant Grove School had the top essays in their categories and read their essays aloud at a ceremony at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, which kicked off the RBG event. 

According to Morley Griffith, tenth grader at Dale High School, it was exciting to be named a finalist and have her voice heard. 

"It was definitely an honor to be selected as one of the finalists and being respected among a lot of these women. I felt a sense of power and passion," Griffith said.  

Henry Wright said in addition to the winners, lifelong friend Erin Bailey Jones spoke at the ceremony and Oklahoma singer Chanda Graham sang "I Know Where I've Been."  

Following the ceremony, Henry Wright said the finalists of the essay contest were paired with their mentors — female leaders in the community —  for a luncheon.  

The artist said it was wonderful to see the mentors and finalists interact and support each other.  

"Seeing the young girls just speaking and connected with their mentors was amazing," Henry Wright said. "The whole community is helping me give them what I wanted."  

The mentor parings were as follows: April Grace and Shalease Buckner, Breanne Gordon and Lexie Rosario, Michelle Freeman and Kaitlyn McElfresh, Julie Gregg-Landes and Brianna Griggs, Emily Mueller and Morley Griffith, Erin Bailey Jones and Destin Rogers, Melissa Dennis and Reese Leone, Nancy Reese Barrett and Isabelle O’Daniel, Kathy Laster and Margot Davidson, Tiffany Nagle Monroe and Jazzelyn Ortega, Angi Mohr and Marilyn Bartley, Rachel Melot and Abbi Frentz, Alijcia Carter and Bella Dahlman and Paulann Canty and Estelle Lilite.  

The mentors and finalists talked during the luncheon, but some finalists were quarantined due to COVID-19.  

Henry Wright said those mentors were encouraged to read their finalist's essays and write her a letter. 

Those finalists and their mentor paring include Vivian Lozano Stafford and Emmaleigh Chittum, Henry Wright and Alivia Wapskineh, Mandi Wells and Meranda Switch, Cami Engles and Mahayla Trevino, Natalie Arnett and Coryne Venable and Renee Clemmons and Miana Redwine. 

According to Isabelle O’Daniel, 12-year-old and sixth grader at South Rock Creek, she was inspired by RBG to enter the essay contest and she was happy to be named a finalist. 

"Ruth Bader Ginsburg is really inspiring as a woman and she helped not only women but men too," O'Daniel said. "It felt really good (to be a finalist). I was really proud of myself." 

Following the luncheon, Henry Wright said members of the community including men and women of all ages walked from the church to the Pottawatomie County Courthouse before ending at her studio, where she presented pieces in her "I Dissent. Art Show of Gratitude."  

Henry Wright said after a month and a half of work she created three sculptors reflecting the collars RBG wore during court proceedings and three original paintings with words from the justice's dissent speeches.  

The artist said two prints of her paintings were made and so far one print sold out overnight and the other one is nearly there.  

"It's exciting because I want to put (25 percent) of these proceeds into creative communication education for the girl's clubs of Community Renewal," Henry Wright said. 

Henry Wright said Community Renewal and Emmanuel Episcopal Church sponsored this event.  

Overall, the Shawnee resident said she felt the event was a success and RBG would be proud.  

"I think she would be pleased with all the women that have stepped up to carry on this tradition of caring and speaking up for the voices that aren't quite loud yet," Henry Wright said.  

The artist said she hopes to continue this event in the years to come.