The life and legacy of the late Judge Roland Hayes was celebrated this week, during the Winston-Salem Bar Association’s fourth annual Black History Month Essay Contest.
Five students from Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy, which occupies the building of the old Atkins High School Hayes, from which graduated, were selected as this year’s essay contest winners and treated to a celebratory luncheon with their parents and WSBA members at the Piedmont Club. Each winner was presented with a certificate and a $100 check from a WSBA member.
This year’s prompt told students about Hayes’ legacy as the first African American District Court judge in Forsyth County and a beloved community servant until his death last month, and challenged the youngsters to envision what their own legacies might be.
“He will be missed by the legal community and by citizens of this county,” District Court Judge Denise Hartsfield, who wrote the prompt in tribute of her old friend, told the audience. “…He will long be remembered for being fair, honest and humorous.”
Like Hayes, WSPA junior Keylah Parsons aspires to serve the city as a member of the legal community.
“When I graduate from college, I plan on going to law school and becoming a defense attorney,” wrote Parsons, who aspires to create programs to assist at-risk teens and members of the homeless community. “When I become a defense attorney, my primary focus – other than my work – would be to give back to my community. At my age now, I see lots of kids and teenagers heading down the wrong path, and I’m very concerned about it.”
Parsons and her best friend, fellow junior Samantha Drawdy, both took top honors in the WSBA contest for the second time this year. Drawdy, an aspiring neonatal nurse, said she wants to leave “a legacy of kindness.”
“Years from now, I want to be remembered as someone who always tried their best to help anyone in need,” she wrote. “…To me, leaving a legacy of selflessness is an accomplishment of a lifetime. My mom always told me ‘sugar will get you much further than vinegar,’ and she was right.”
Junior Kellik Simmons said he plans to support the next generation at WSPA, by making donations to create programs that encourage high achievement and helping to enhance the existing technology in schools nationwide to make it easier for students to learn.
“I simply do not want kids to remember what I do,” wrote the aspiring software engineer. “I just want them to remember what I did for them.”
Hartsfield praised Simmons for pursuing a dream that she said Hayes would’ve been happy to endorse. If he encountered a young person who had recently graduated from high school or college, Hartsfield said the benevolent judge wouldn’t hesitate to reach into his wallet and reward them handsomely, whether he knew them or not.
“A part of Judge Hayes’s legacy, as we all know, was giving back to students … and this young man wants to do the same thing,” she declared. “Judge Hayes would be real proud of you.”
Sophomore Yusef Miller, an aspiring agricultural engineer, said he hopes to build a legacy as a small business incubator for African American businesses and a teacher of African American culture. Fellow sophomore Deonica Reid, a track and field athlete and Olympic hopeful, said she dreams of being known as “the fastest girl in the world,” while eighth grader Alivia Meredith plans to create affordable housing for financially strapped families and start a canine coffin business that would donate 10 percent of its profits to animal friendly agencies.
Sixth grader Cheyenne Miller was the youngest winner in this year’s contest. Cheyenne, the sixth of seven children, wants to become a children’s counselor.
“When I do become an adult, I want to help children with their problems,” she wrote. “My family and I didn’t always have everything so easy. We went through many things – good and bad – but always stuck together. I know to appreciate things and not judge others for how they look or what they have. Children need to know that no matter what, they can still achieve their dreams.”
Cheyenne said she saw the contest as an opportunity to express herself.
“I wanted to share how I feel about the world and that was my chance to,” she related, adding that she was pleasantly surprised to learn that she had beat out some much older contestants. “…the best part was getting to know all the people around and knowing that they liked my essay and they’re proud of me.”
For many, the highlight of the event was the presence of Hayes’ family members: his longtime wife, Barbara Hayes, his daughter, Attorney Reba Hayes Warren, and his grandson, Roland Hayes III.
Mrs. Hayes said she was touched by the event.
“It was a beautiful, wonderful tribute to him; he would have been so proud,” she declared. “He loved young people. He believed in young people and their potential and he could see so much potential in every one that came before him, that’s why he bent over backwards … to help them out and to give them a second chance. This was just wonderful, and I too am so proud of these young people and really grateful to the organization for paying tribute to him in this way.”