His grandfather's lessons were given quietly, but Detroit teenager Kevin Lewis wanted to shout out what they meant to him.
"I could never outgrow or not need my grandfather's guidance and example," he wrote last year.
The widespread notion that there are no African American role models for younger men irked him, Kevin wrote in the "Why I Love My Grandparents" essay contest for students sponsored by AARP Michigan.
"I am determined to rebel against the stereotype that we, as young men, are destined to fill up jail cells," he wrote. "It is my goal to live up to what my grandfather has quietly taught me."
Kevin's essay about his maternal grandfather, Charles Richard Walker Sr., won first prize and a $500 scholarship in AARP Michigan's competition, held in conjunction with National Grandparents Day.
AARP Michigan is sponsoring the essay contest again this year.
"Many grandparents remain a loving and fun respite for their grandchildren, but they are also a pillar of emotional and financial support to the contemporary family," said Lisa Whitmore Davis, associate state director for community engagement at AARP Michigan.
The winning essay by Kevin, a 17-year-old senior at Detroit's Renaissance High School, was selected from among 160 essays submitted by Michigan students.
"Support is something that always came from my grandfather, whether it was coming to my Tuesday track meets or simply calling me to check on what is going on in school," Kevin wrote. "He never failed to make sure I had a ride to and from the many places I had to go."
Walker said he was unaware that his grandson had written the essay until after Kevin was named the winner.
"It made me feel real good," said Walker, 72, a General Motors retiree who lives in Detroit. "I was proud of that and proud of him, too."
The essay made it clear, he said, that Kevin had absorbed the life lessons that Walker had tried to instill in his grandson.
"When you're talking to the young people, you never know if they're listening or not," Walker said, chuckling.
The ceremony at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit "was standing room only," Davis said. "People were moved to tears" as Kevin read his essay aloud.
Kevin plans to attend Bowling Green State University in Ohio this fall.
His own grandchildren are years away, but Kevin said he wants to be "the kind of grandfather that my grandfather is.
"I would make the effort to support and give encouragement where it was needed, not just one grandkid, but all of them," he said in an interview.
The contest is open to students in public or private elementary, middle and high schools. The overall winner will receive a $500 scholarship at a ceremony Sept. 11, Grandparents Day. Second- and third-place overall winners will get scholarships of $250 and $100. First-, second- and third-place winners in three age categories will receive medals.
Students may submit one essay. It can be about one or more grandparents, living or deceased. Essays from children 6 to 10 are limited to 300 words; from children 11 to 14, a maximum of 500 words; and students 15 to 18, up to 750 words.
Essays must be postmarked by midnight Aug. 19 and sent to AARP Michigan, Grandparents Day Essay Contest, 309 N. Washington Square, Suite 110, Lansing, MI 48933. In addition, entries can be faxed to 517-482-2794 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also of interest: The unique role of aunts and uncles. >>
Rick Haglund is a writer living in Birmingham, Mich.
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