KINGSPORT — A Hawkins County high school sophomore has bested four juniors in the annual Black History Month essay contest for students of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Volunteer High School sophomore Eliza Smith won the seventh annual Black History Month Oratorical Contest on Monday.

The contest was sponsored by Eastman Chemical Co.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the first Black History Month contest held virtually in the history of the program. Students gave their orations from remote locations, and it was broadcast on Eastman’s Facebook page

Smith’s speech about mathematician, educator and civil rights activist Euphemia Haynes won $1,000 and the first-place finish among five finalists who gave their oratory.

The second-place finisher, who won $500, was Science Hill High junior Carmen Arielle Palileo, followed by third-place finisher and Dobyns-Bennett High junior Hunter Scott, who won $300. Fourth-place finisher was Rhees Christian, and fifth-place finsher was Layla Russell, both juniors at D-B who won $250 each.

In her speech, Smith recounted that Haynes was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in math and taught at the elementary, middle school and university levels. Haynes also served on the Washington, D.C., school board and helpedbring an end to the “track” system that discouraged minority students from seeking college educations but pushed whites onto that path.

In April 2019, Smith, as an eighth-grader at Surgoinsville Middle, made the news for winning a “Breaking Barriers” essay contest, which included a trip to the World Series and a visit from iconic African American baseball player Jackie Robinson’s daughter.

Haynes, Smith said, urged women to pursue math and science careers and “boldly proclaimed that scientific exploration of the universe is the right of all men.” Haynes also taught students to look at math through the lens of “logic and truth.”

Carmen Arielle Palileo’s subject also was Euphemia Haynes, who she said taught 47 years in Washington, D.C., and received the Papal Medal in 1959. She said coming from a family of teachers she respects Haynes greatly and applauded her successful opposition to the “track” system.

Hunter Scott spoke about Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astronomer who has helped change the public’s view of the cosmos since he has hosted the television show “Cosmos” and became director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, to which a visit as a child spurred his interest in space.

Tyson has written books including one called “The Pluto Files” about his controversial finding that Pluto is a drawf planet. He also advises NASA in its efforts for Moon and Mars explorations.

Rhees Christian spoke about Bayard Rustin, a civil rights and gay rights advocate and adviser to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rustin received the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2013.

Layla Russell spoke about designer Anne Lowe, who designed future first lady Jackie Kennedy’s wedding gown when she married future President John F. Kennedy and was featured in Vogue Magazine.

Judges were Joy Fulkerson, East Tennessee State University; Jane Honeycutt, Northeast State Community College; Brad Belote, Eastman Corporate Communications; and Gerri Harrison, a retired teacher from Kingsport City Schools.

According to a news release from the Kingsport-based chemical and plastics maker, the annual contest provides local high school students with an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of African American contributors to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, arts and math or STEAM. It also provides the students with an opportunity to improve their writing, communication, public speaking and leadership skills, the release said.

In seven years, the contest has given out $25,000 and expanded to two other locations.

In the Tri-Cities, 35 high school students submitted essays for consideration. The top five finalists are provided the opportunity to orate. Eligible participants are high school students in the Northeast Tennessee or Southwest Virginia as of Oct. 1, 2020. Orators were ranked on a point scale based on diction, tone, pronunciation and creativity.In addition, the second annual Black History Month Oratorical Contests will be held Wednesday in Martinsville, Virginia, and Thursday in Longview. Texas.