A human rights advocacy group is promoting diversity to students with a new contest, and the winner could become a published author and pocket $3,000 in the process.

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A human rights advocacy group is promoting diversity to students with a new contest, and the winner could become a published author and pocket $3,000 in the process.

B’nai Brith Canada has launched its first Diverse Minds Creative Writing Competition. Students in grades 9 to 12 are invited to enter the contest by writing and illustrating an original book for elementary school children that tells a story of tolerance and inclusion.

The winner will receive $3,000 and have their book published. Second prize is $1,500 and third prize is $500.

The competition is "a perfect fit" for B’nai Brith because it aligns with the organization’s mandate to combat anti-Semitism and racism, spokesman Daniel Koren says.

"We’re inviting all Manitoba high school students to take part in this exciting challenge," Koren says. "As a human rights organization, we’d like these students to become active human rights role models; that’s what we’re hoping to accomplish."

The competition has fit well in Jennifer Oldfield’s classroom at Collège Béliveau in Winnipeg.

"Picture books can be incredibly sophisticated in terms of the themes they approach, the way they mesh text and illustration (and) the way they use colour and font," says Oldfield, who teaches a six-week unit on children’s books in her Grade 11 English class. "Those are all things we can learn from."

Oldfield’s students created their own children’s books as part of a class project last semester.

Since then, about 10 of her students have submitted their books to the Diverse Minds competition.

Students who enter the contest are expected to create a 16- to 24-page book that shows a positive message on how diversity, tolerance and inclusion can improve their communities.

They can explore a wide range of issues in their stories, such as bullying, social and gender issues and religious and cultural tolerance, so long as young kids from Kindergarten to Grade 5 can easily relate to the stories.

"What I really like is that (the contest) provided us with a relatively general theme, but still gave us a direction to head into," Oldfield says.

"I really appreciate the ability to have contests like this available for our students. It’s one thing to write for your teacher; it’s another to write for a real-life audience."

"Writing picture books is way more difficult than I think any person imagines until you actually enter into the process," Oldfield says.

"I love the challenge, and I love that my students, through this contest, are able to live up to that challenge."

B’nai Brith International has run a similar competition in multiple states for more than 10 years.

At the awards ceremony for the Washington, D.C., competition last June, award-winning children’s author Leah Henderson told young people that writing stories is important because it helps readers imagine new possibilities.

"It is so vitally important when you take the time to put your heart and soul into your work, and to put these messages out in the world, because that is where we get tolerance, inclusion, acceptance and a welcoming spirit from the world," Henderson said.

B’nai Brith Canada hopes to expand the competition to other provinces after the inaugural contest wraps up in the spring.

"We’ve been active in (Manitoba) for a very long time," Koren says. "There’s a very strong Jewish community in (Manitoba) and there’s also a great mix of diverse cultures there, so we just thought it was a great place to start."

The organization hopes that a wide audience is exposed to the competition.

"We really hope to be able to reach as many people from as many different walks of life as possible," Koren says. "We’re hoping to see participation from students from different communities, from different religions, different identity groups, different genders (and) different ethnicities."

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