The reading of the winning piece from the Irish Chamber of Atlanta’s St. Patrick’s Day essay contest is a much-anticipated facet of its annual breakfast surrounding the green holiday.
But in 2020, the event was narrowly cut short by the emerging coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a pandemic in early March and knocked out events one by one before the domino effect gathered steam and wiped out the entire month.
The chamber canceled its 18th annual event breakfast the night before it was to take place March 13. The world soon after went virtual.
That deprived Dante Christian, an International Baccalaureate student at Douglas County High School in Douglasville, the spotlight he deserved. Mr. Christian, now a senior, had become the first winner to prevail with a poem, a genre introduced to the competition only this year.
His work, “Three Days a Green Slave,” proved uncannily prescient, as protests over racism and police brutality broke out all over the nation just after he was slated to read it to a room full of (mostly) Irish-Americans and claim his $1,000 prize.
The poem traces three Black men named “Green” from 1762 to the present, and then more than a thousand years into the future.
The first is a freed slave who finds kinship with a man named St. Patrick he’s told about by an Irish servant in New York. Like the narrator, Patrick saw his name changed from Maewyn Succat by those he liberated, though the freedman’s was one given by his oppressors, a reminder that “stings my tongue. Just like that whip and my raw back.”
Still, both share the experience of being liberated from enslavement, united across a millennium with a Christian hope that all will eventually be “unchained.”
The second arrives in 2020 with a sense that while much has been achieved, carefree St. Patrick’s Day celebrations paper over unrealized potential, both for his people and for the broader society. “I, Ace Green, had a dream. Then it was like Martin Luther King and Saint Patrick. Assassinated,” Mr. Christian writes poignantly.
The third Green sees equality and renewal on March 17, but importantly, not until the year 3174. Read the full poem here (makes sure to scroll down)
In November, Mr. Christian finally got the chance to read his poem aloud during the virtual edition of IrishFest Atlanta. The chamber invited him to participate in its “Irish Tea” event with Irish Consul General Ciara O’Floinn, where the community honored Irish Traditions music scholarship winner Olivia Bradley and highlighted Atlanta’s Irish theater, Arís. The event also featured Shamrock and Peach, a food and tourism business run by Judith McLoughlin and her husband, who moved to Atlanta from Northern Ireland in 1996.
The event served to publicize the opening of the essay contest for 2021, where the focus will be “The Impact of COVID-19 From an Irish Perspective.”
It’s open to high schoolers in all grades within Georgia. Organizers encourage students to research their topic thoroughly to link insights from today’s pandemic with Irish perspectives on history, culture, literature, humanitarianism and more. The prize remains $1,000, and submissions are being accepted through Feb. 13, 2021.
View the contest rules and requirements at https://sites.google.com/view/stpatricksdayessay/