Lauren P.

First Place Winner

As I peeled back each page of my summer reading, I expected the text to be trite and overly complex. However, despite previous difficulties' understanding Toni Morrison's work, I saw myself in the antagonists of The Bluest Eye. Their averted eyes and crude whispering to domestic tragedies resembled me -- an ignorant youth protected by privilege. Their inability to see the resilience in Pecola debilitated her from seeing herself and as a result, she lost her power as an individual. Each page was convicting and I quickly came to understand that communities are responsible for healing their weakest members and acted accordingly. Upon hearing about The Safe Haven Project which has domestic and international camps serving youth aged eight through eighteen battling HIV/AIDS, I promptly volunteered.

For the first three days of the camp, I observed. Somehow, their bodies—as boundlessly energetic and young as mine—had been sanctioned unworthy by a jury of their peers at school. Deliberate absence of human contact mercilessly taught them to hate their bodies and be ashamed of the innocence in the acquisition of the infection.

One night, an artist in residence came to the camp to do an activity with the campers. They were charged with the task of personifying HIV/AIDS using paint brushes, watercolors, and other mediums. Malaysia, who'd nearly driven me insane the first day, spoke first. Her picture was black with bold red stripes and hints of yellow. She began slowly, "Something is trying to kill me and doesn't care who I am."It became clear to me that her boisterous exterior was a defense mechanism. Throughout the remainder of the week, we grew much closer and she invited herself to be a new member of our cabin. Every morning she was the last one up because every night she stayed awake singing but I came to rejoice in the fact that she found reasons to keep fighting and appreciated her voice. I'd always imagined that if I came into direct contact with people battling HIV/AIDS I'd be squirmy, but daily I forgot my initial fears and interacted with her just as I would with anyone else.

The Bluest Eye revealed an unyielding truth that my judgmental ways were restricting the growth of others; my determination to change these aspects of my character led me to sisterhood with her and many others. I feel obligated to continue eradicating ignorance and fear surrounding the disease and plan to continue working with The Safe Haven Project domestically and at their sites in Ghana and the United Kingdom. Through examining anthropology and sociology as well as cultural analysis and marketing strategies, I can delve deeper into the socioeconomics of how HIV/AIDS is oversimplified or completely dismissed in certain communities.