Know Your Power

Know Your Power

A civic engagement arts contest for teens

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About the Contest | Writing | Illustration | Photography | Music

Art is a powerful tool to share social messages and inspire change. Visual artists like Shepard Fairey, musicians like Beyonce and authors like Mira Jacob have used their creative voices to speak truth to power and raise awareness of the important issues facing us today. Pepco, the DC Public Library Foundation and DC Public Library invited D.C. teens to find their power and use it to creatively address a topic that is important to them. 

We were overwhelmed by the amazing pieces that were submitted. They were not only well-crafted but had a strong voice and perspective on a wide variety of subjects pertaining to civic engagement. The winners in the four categories Illustration, Writing, Music and Photography will receive prizes that help them continue to explore their creativity, including a laptop for writing, a Canon EOS 4000D for photography, a Wacom CTL4100 Intuos Graphics Drawing Tablet for illustration and a Fender Electric Guitar for music.

Looking for inspiration? View past winning entries.

2020 Winners

2021 Winners


First Place Winner


"The woman on the corner wears old grey chucks Her hands a shade of reddish rust She holds a shivering black dog And a brown cardboard sign  And though I see her every day, I couldn’t tell you the color of her eyes.   The man in the street has big, strong arms  At his feet, a small pile of ash and cigars He holds an empty McDonald’s cup And an uneven crutch   But if you asked me about his smile, I couldn’t tell you much.  What I don’t see is above all this, Their thoughts and dreams - their humanness. Weighted down by rocks and boulders,  They long for someone who’s not afraid to look above their shoulders.


"Above Their Shoulders", by Camila Reinoso

Camila is 16 years old. She attends Jackson Reed High School and is a customer of the Takoma Park Library.

"My poem was inspired by every person I've ever seen living on the streets. We as individuals and as a society tend to look away from problems, thinking that if we don't look them right in the eye, they might disappear. When I noticed that I had the same habit, I started making a conscious effort to think about the people I saw like I would anyone else. I think in looking at these people directly, we are forced to face the whole problem, and really acknowledge their position. The first step to change is awareness, and sometimes we need a push out of our comfortable blindness in order to finally make a difference."

First Runner Up

God, The man on the television Reassures everyone “Those” lives Our lives Will be enough For China Middle Country America West Taiwan East With glimpse of silo, China has conquered Both Ultimatum It’s God’s will Your will Don’t sell your Stock I have no Stock In the country that has sacrificed Me Please save me, God


"Beyond Afraid", Ryan Zhi Rui Ting

Ryan is 15 years old. He attends BASIS DC and is a customer of the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library. 

"I wrote this piece because as the son of two immigrants (my mom is from Taiwan and my dad is from Malaysia and China), I've never felt like I belonged anywhere, and now I'm at risk of never belonging anywhere, of losing my only hope of feeling like I'm home."



First Place Winner


A drawing of a middle aged Black man in a hoodie, dozing on a couch


“Sink” by Skye Jones.

Skye is 18. She attends the Parsons School of Design and is a customer of the Dorothy I. Heights/Benning Road Library.

"This piece represents the continuous fight African Americans have to experience. We have not had a place to rest for hundreds of years. We are constantly having to tell people we have value and deserve all the freedoms others have. We are tired, but we cannot rest."

First Runner Up

A paintingof a person with long hair rolled in a blanket, lying on their side

"Black and Trans",  by Skyler

Skyler is 19 years old. She attends the District of Columbia International School and is a customer of the Petworth Library.

"My piece is about the struggles and isolation that black members of the trans community suffer. Most trans community resources, whether it be healthcare, support groups, online spaces or social safety nets are not made with black people in mind, and overwhelmingly cater to the white community without any consideration to the unique struggles that come with the intersection of transness and blackness. This piece represents the emotional turmoil that comes with feeling othered in both the black and trans communities, which are supposed to be safe places, but more often than not, prove themselves to be dangerous both physically and emotionally. The sheet is meant to be a metaphorical representation of the thin but ever present barrier of that comes with being hyper aware of the social status differences between black trans people and their connection to both the trans and black community."



First Place Winner

Please click on the image to advance the slide

“Gentrification in DC” Adam McCoyer 


Adam is 18 years old. He attends Macalester College and is a customer of the Woodridge Library.


“I tell the story of gentrification in my neighborhood of Brookland and the nearby neighborhood of what's now called NoMa. I start by showing some of the new developments in those areas, and then I show the darker side of that development. I show that gentrification is in action by including pictures of McMillan Park and Brookland Manor, which are currently being demolished. Finally, I included two messages from people in the community. One reads "save our unhoused" on a sidewalk in NoMa. The other shows a sign saying "people lived here" on a highway divider under a bridge in the neighborhood. These highway dividers were placed under the bridge so that homeless people would stop sleeping there. I hope that after seeing my photo essay, people will be aware of the problems that gentrification creates for our city, and take action to speak out against them."


First Runner Up


A photograph of the Supreme Court building shielded by a large black fence


“Mothers Days Protests” by Harper Shattack

Harper is 17 years old. She attends the Arlington Career Center and is a customer of the Southeast Library.

"I took this picture when I went to the Mothers Day protests in DC. It was a cloudy day, windy, and yet voices never seemed louder. The loudest voice was the silent 8 foot fences guarding the Supreme Court building."


First Place Winner



“Summer Fling” by Madison Mack

Madison is 16 years old. She attends Girls Global Academy and is a customer of the Anacostia Library


First Runner Up


“Your Grove” by Issiah Robinson


Issiah is 16 years old. He attends Templeton Academy High School and is a customer of the Francis Gregory Library. “"I named it 'YourGrove' because it embodies the idea that it's cool to be different," Issiah says about his song.  "I believe that it would make a good empowerment song for people who are different and show that it's cool and okay to be different." 

Be sure to follow @dclibraryteens and #knowyourpower on Instagram for interviews with the winners and spotlights on all of the amazing pieces submitted to the inaugural Know Your Power contest. 


Know Your Power is sponsored by
Pepco logo, a circle with squiggly lines around itDC Public Library Foundation logo, the words DC Public Library Foundation with a simple picture of MLK Library on top of it