NEAR WEST SIDE —Megan Chu, a senior at Whitney Young Magnet High School, is the first Chinese-American student to win the annual Black History Month essay competition sponsored by the City of Chicago Treasurer's Office.
Megan, 17, of Bridgeport, found out Friday she had won when city Treasurer Stephanie Neely made a surprise visit to the school, 211 S. Laflin St.
"Oh my gosh, really? Thank you. This is going to help my family so much," Megan said as Neely walked into her language arts class to congratulate her and to hand her a mock $1,000 check. "I cannot believe I actually won."
Megan said she had doubted her chances of winning because she anticipated stiff competition. She beat out 50 other essays.
This is the seventh year of the competition, which Neely started "to educate youths about African-American history and to get them thinking about it more and not just during Black History Month."
Neely said she chose former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died last December, as this year's essay topic because of "his forgiveness he had in him and his quest to make South Africa a better place for everyone."
This year's essay competition had challenged students with the question, "What is the most inspiring lesson we can learn from the life of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela?”
"I wrote about his famous quote, 'Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,'" Megan said. "One of his greatest accomplishments was [working to] abolish apartheid in South Africa. He used his power of education to educate the people around him and to unite everyone."
The six previous winners of the competition have been African-American. But Black History Month is important to Megan, she said, because it highlights the living conditions blacks had to endure and the achievements blacks have made.
But it also highlights the struggles of other races, she said.
"I appreciate all the people that have stood up, not just for blacks, but for all races," Megan said.
This fall Megan will be the first in her family to go to college when she attends the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign to study accounting.
"My parents did not have the same opportunities I have to go to college," said Megan, who has a younger brother and sister.
Ideally, Neely said she would love to also award money for second and third place. But she would need additional sponsors, and for now she said she is grateful for the sponsorship from BMO Harris Bank for one winner.
"I know $1,000 may not seem like much to some people, but with the rising cost of college this money can be useful in a lot of ways," explained Neely.