Icesha Sanders acknowledges that when she heard the news about the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting Wednesday, Feb. 14, she broke down in tears.

Two days later, the Marietta Middle School eighth-grader was bringing tears to adults as she read an essay she wrote months ago that decried the hatred and bigotry behind mass shootings.

“Every day, I take a quick look at the news, and I hear about a mass shooting or a protest and how it was fueled by people who think that their race is better than others,” the 14-year-old wrote.

B’nai B’rith’s Art Link with essay contest winner Icesha Sanders

Icesha, the daughter of Clevette and Miker Sanders, was honored Feb. 16 as the winner of this year’s Enlighten America essay contest, sponsored by Atlanta’s B’nai B’rith lodge. The essay was inspired by a quotation from President Jimmy Carter about America being a mosaic.

Icesha, recently named Marietta City Schools’ student of the month, insisted she’s not a good writer, but the Rev. Coakley Pendergrass from Turner Chapel assured her she is: “Writers are people with ideas.”

Art Link, who led the essay contest for B’nai B’rith, noticed the pink school T-shirt Icesha wore with the slogan “Losing is not an option” on the front and “Overcome through courage and strength” on the back and urged her to live up to those words. He said the winning essay is just the start of great things for her.

While the U.S. and Georgia flags outside the school flew at half-staff, Achim/Gate City lodge President Karen Kahn Weinberg said Icesha brought “such hope and light at a time when we need it.”

Read Icesha’s winning essay.