Johnson (Carroll County Times)

Raynisha Johnson, a junior at Winters Mill High School, was selected as a finalist in the 27th Annual Champions of Courage Black History Month Essay Competition.

More than 3,000 entries were received from middle and high schools throughout the Baltimore metro area. The competition challenged students in grades six through 12 to write a brief essay saluting their personal "Champion of Courage" - a positive role model who has touched their lives by sharing the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.

The finalists shared their salute to their "Champions of Courage" with Fox 45, The CW Baltimore and MyTV Baltimore viewers. The tapings should air Feb. 6 between 6-8 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. on Fox 45 news.

Each finalist was honored and presented with a $100 prize at an awards breakfast at the Tremont Grand in Baltimore Jan. 25. At the breakfast, the top three essayists were announced and were awarded scholarships and cash prizes for their schools.

February is Black History Month. The Times sat down with Johnson, who plans to go to college then law school one day, to find out about her essay, what she thought about being a finalist and what the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., means to her.

Q: What did you think when you were told you had been selected as a finalist in the 27th annual Champion of Courage Black History Month essay competition?

A: I was really excited because it was a while before I found out about it. I thought, oh, I guess I wasn't a finalist. Then I went to school and they called me down and they said you turned in an essay for Fox 45. And I said, "Oh my gosh, I won?" And they said, "Yeah, you won." I was really excited. I think the deadline was Dec. 8 and I entered Dec. 3 and I found out Dec. 17, but they said you'd find out Dec. 14.

Q: What did you write about in your essay?

A: It was based around Dr. Martin Luther King, so I actually talked about how Mr. Elliott, he was basically an inspiration through his words of dedication. He encourages not only me, but many who cross his path. And how he encourages me to be optimistic of the future and what is to become of it. It was a 90-word essay.

Q: Why is Mr. Raymond Elliott, a teacher at Winters Mill, a positive role model who has touched your life?

A: I go to him with all my problems and he's someone that would sit and listen. He doesn't jump to anything. He's very supportive and he's always there. He's just easy to talk to and relate to. He's not like average adults who just try to make you do something; he actually sits and listens. This is my first course having him in World History.

Q: Did you get a chance to read your essay for television? When will it air?

A: I was really nervous when I got there. I was shaking. It was in December. Then after I did it once, it was fine. I think it's actually everybody on TV but the [run] date they actually told us about was Feb. 6.

Q: How was the Jan. 25 awards breakfast at the Tremont Grand in Baltimore?

A: It was an experience. It was gorgeous. When I got there I was actually really upset because I didn't see my teacher. They were calling names to give the awards and he still wasn't there. I was like, "Oh my God, he's not going to see me with the award and everything." And then just before they called my name, he showed up. I was excited. It went pretty well. They showed all the videos of the 20 finalists and then they gave us all our awards and we walked across the stage individually and got it. Then we all took a group picture and it was four adults who are doing great things for their community and we watched a video of their organizations and what they are doing. They came up and gave a speech and received their awards.

Q: What do the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., mean to you?

A: He was very inspirational to me; having hope for the future that things would change. That it might be a struggle now but things will always get better. That means a lot.