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Literary giant in the making!

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jun 25, 2014 - 10:47:30 PM

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WASHINGTON —The 31st annual Larry Neal Writer’s Competition brought together an array of aspiring authors in eight categories that included essay, fiction, poetry and dramatic writing. Zahir Muhammad, 11 was one of the competitors. On May 9, young Zahir was recognized and awarded for his literary work in the youth / teen category at the competition ceremony. It was a grand evening with much anticipation from the over 150 entries of who would win the coveted prize in each category.

“My mom encouraged me to apply and told me to think of a problem I see every day and write about that.  I chose homelessness.  When people usually talk about homelessness, they just want to give them something.  I wrote about teaching them how to better their condition,” Zahir told The Final Call.

“My essay was about building a shelter that would have classes to teach them to do things that better their condition so they can get jobs.  The judges said they liked my essay because it contained passion.”


Zahir credits his not so typical thinking to the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad that he gets via his homeschool teacher, his mother.

“I suggested that Zahir enter the contest because through writing, it would give him an opportunity to express himself. Especially as it related to social problems that he observed, that he wished that he could do something about,” explains his mother, Jennifer Muhammad.

The problem of homelessness is a major issue for adults.  How did an 11 year old see it with a solution in mind?

“Each day we’d ride by one corner near my home and I would see my brothers and sisters in pain and hungry.  I wondered why.  I realized that this isn’t just something happening in D.C.— it’s all across the country,” he said.

“Islam teaches me to care for others. But the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad say that it is better to teach someone how to take care of themselves rather than just giving them things that will only temporarily meet their needs.”

An esteemed panel of judges considered presentation, structure, technique and overall impression to determine this year’s winners. 

Larry Neal was a scholar of Black theatre and is well known for his contributions to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s.  The writing competition in his name celebrates the accomplishments of the city’s writers. 

Other winners included Fataima Warner, adult fiction; Kay Dosunmu, teen fiction; Ellida Parker, youth fiction; Gregory Luce, adult poetry; Daniele Shia-Sevilla, teen poetry; Sophia Diggs-Galligan and Raya Kenney, youth poetry; and Michael Moss, adult dramatic writing.

“This is a celebration of the writing community in D.C.— a city that based on the latest census has more authors per capita than anywhere else in the country,” said Lionell Thomas, executive director, of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, sponsors of the contest.

“We’re here because of the example set by the incomparable writer and music and literary critic Larry Neal.”

It is important for children that are homeschooled to be involved in contests and activities said Jennifer Muhammad.

Homeschooled children are receiving increased attention because of their ability to win notable contests like the National Spelling Bee and the National Geography Bee.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics approximately 3 percent of the school-age population was homeschooled in the 2011–12 school year. 

“I highly encourage other homeschool parents to get involved with contests because it gives them the experience of preparing for something important.  In many ways, it mimics a work (job) experience. When preparing for a contest, we have to develop a game plan, a timeline for rough drafts or practice science boards, and then he has the responsibility to edit and create/submit a final product,” said Mrs. Muhammad.

 “Just like with this contest, I did not emphasize the fact, I told him that he may not win, but I was proud of him for completing the submission process. Last summer he was a finalist in the ‘Book that Shaped Me’ writing contest, sponsored by the D.C. Library system. Once again, he was the only Black male in the group of 20 finalists chosen from hundreds of D.C. students.” Zahir was awarded prizes and recognized at a special literary fair at the Book Festival on the Mall.

“It is important that we enter our children in contests for exposure, and if they win, it serves as inspiration and motivation for learning through competition,” said Jennifer Muhammad.