Learn the facts before you act

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Once again, the Suffolk Peanut Fest has come and gone.

And once again, I’m hearing some negative comments about some of the events, the most controversial of which is the Peanut Festival Queen’s Court. But please don’t be too quick to judge this event until you have learned the facts.

I have asked questions and have learned from members on the Peanut Festival Committee, high school officials and some members of the Pilot Club of Suffolk that every female junior attending all three high schools in the city- Nansemond-Suffolk Academy and Lakeland and Nansemond River high schools – had the opportunity to compete in the essay contest to win the chance to be queen or one of the festival princesses this year.

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Each spring, the Peanut Fest Committee sends a bulletin to be posted in each of the three high schools listing rules for

eligibility. The only requirement is that the student

write an essay on the topic that is picked by the Peanut Fest Committee, a small effort for the fun and festivities that these girls are involved in. I have been told that very few and for some years, no black students seem to be interested in writing essays.

The following 2003 essay instructions asked the candidates to write their essays on the theme: &uot;Peanut Fest – 26 Years of Tradition.&uot;

Instructions called for the essay to be a minimum of 300, but not more than 500, words. Each student was required to include a title page with her name, address and school.

Most importantly, the instructions specifically stated that the winning essays will be selected through &uot;blind&uot; judging. The girls were advised not to state their names, schools or indicate whether their schools were private or public within the contents of their entries.

Once the Peanut Festival Committee members had the entries in hand, they stripped away the title pages before passing them on to the panel of judges. That way, judges had no idea who wrote the essays they read.

Linda Stevens, festival director since 1994, said this is fairest way of judging that she can think of.

The queen is selected based on the best written essay and her court is selected from the next best, etc. Two students are selected from each high school listed above.

During September, members of the Pilot Club of Suffolk sponsor the Queen’s Luncheon and Fashion Show as a way to introduce festival &uot;royalty&uot; to residents. However, the club has nothing to do with how the girls are selected.

The Pilot Club has about 15 black members and one of them, who asked not to be mentioned, said she has checked into the reason black queens and princesses were not included in past Peanut Fest events. She even talked to some black parents, urging them to encourage their daughters to enter the contest.

Also, at one time, clubs with mostly black membership used to buy tables to the Queen’s Luncheon. She believes they don’t do that much anymore because of the lack of black representation on the queen’s court.

I am now asking black mothers who have daughters that are eligible this year to push them to write that essay next spring.

If your daughter is weak in the area of writing, find the time to contact someone who will help her to improve on those skills.

When I first began to write in 1984, it was one of my weakest subjects. I was skeptical about trying but decided to ask my aunt, a retired high school English teacher, to help me. I am still learning new things about the English language today, still trying to expand my vocabulary and how to put it to better use when trying to express myself in a column.

Remember, you are never too old to learn. That is one thing that will always be a fact. However, you will grow too old to qualify for the opportunity to a queen or princess for the Suffolk Peanut Fest.

If you write the essay, at least you can say, &uot;I tried.&uot;


But I feel this way: If your white sisters have the ability to write good essays, so can you. It just takes a little effort, more time, a lot of willpower and the desire to put your best foot forward to be the best that you can.

That way, one of these days in the far future, you won’t be standing on the street watching the parade honoring one of Suffolk’s greatest annual events, only to start singing one of soul singer Brian McKnight’s latest tunes, &uot;Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.&uot;

Evelyn Wall is a staff writer and a regular columnist for the News-Herald. She can be contacted at 934-9613 or via e-mail at evelyn.wall@suffolknewsherald.com