Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry Surprises Essay Contest Winners

Dec 18, 2018

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has visited three Duval County schools since Friday to surprise the winners of the 2019 Tomorrow’s Leaders Award.

Out of about 130 participants in the annual writing competition, one elementary, middle and high school student were selected as winners. The winning students will be recognized during the 32nd Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast, where they’ll read their winning essays in front of hundreds of people.

On Friday, Mayor Curry made his way to Kirby-Smith Middle School and Central Riverside Elementary School to surprise this year’s elementary and middle school winners, Ivery Bramann (4th grade) and Robyn Lucero (7th grade).

Curry also stopped by Bishop Kenny High School on Tuesday to surprise this year’s eldest winner, 9th-grader Arisa Nakamichi.

Nakamichi said when she walked into the room and saw her mom, her principal, her English teacher and people with cameras and microphones she “got nervous.”

“I didn’t know what was going on and then they asked for my name and I didn’t know what to think,” she said. “I was just confused for a little bit.”

From the moment Curry told her who he was (she bluntly told the Mayor “no” when he asked if she knew) and handed over her award, Nakamichi couldn’t stop smiling. “I’m just really thankful for this,” she said.

When her teacher first told her about the writing competition, Nakamichi recalled thinking, “I have no chance of winning.” But she still entered and wrote the best essay she could.

“I just wrote about how there are steps in life,” she said. “It’s not a smooth road - it’s always going to have hardships. There will be things that you don’t expect to come. So I just wrote, the best I could, about how my experience with life has been so far and how I’ve seen other people’s.”

Nakamichi said she’s nervous about reading her essay in front of people, but she does have some experience with public speaking. “I did the Modern Woodmen’s speech contest, I believe, in middle school,” she said.

Curry gave her some advice before taking his leave.

“Take a couple deep breaths if you get nervous on stage,” he said. “Pause for two or three seconds, it’ll feel like 20 seconds, but it’s only three seconds and no one will even notice. You’ll knock it out of the park.”

Readers should keep an eye out for her name, because Nakamichi said she may end up pursuing a career in journalism. “I’ve thought about it, actually. It looks interesting,” she said, grinning coyly. “I’ll think about it.”

The MLK, Jr. breakfast will be held on January 18, 2019, at the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.