At the encouragement of their Scott Middle School language arts teacher, 6th graders Annabelle Evans and Teagan Petit recently penned poems about racial equality and equity.

Officials from the Hardin County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sponsored the poetry contest to award three students with scholarships during their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Celebration and NAACP fundraiser Jan. 21. The theme the students worked off of was "Equality Is Good But Equity Is Better."

When teacher Kerrie Ann Bal's class poems were judged at the school level, five were selected to compete with the roughly 50 from across Hardin County and Elizabethtown schools. Among the five were Teagan's and Annabelle's.

Last week, both girls found out their poems had been selected to compete for the top three awards. Each award came with a monetary scholarship. The student with the best poem would get the honor of reading their poem to local leaders who gathered at the event.

Annabelle said Bal wanted the class to use poetry to prove why King's words were true.

"My main focus for the poem was back then when blacks were able to go to school with whites, so I focused on a [black] school girl who finally went to school and everybody thought she was strange. She never really fit in," said Annabelle. "Then I added one white girl who didn't care how she looked and was friends with her anyway because she's human. We're all human.

"It is a story, and at the end it kind of goes into a theme of how it is present day and how blacks being equal to whites has contributed to our society."

Today, Annabelle and Teagan sat at the same table with their families at Grace Heartland Church in Elizabethtown, waiting for the big announcement. Their poems sat on the table and they chatted with each other as more than 160 guests, local civic leaders and NAACP members enjoyed lunch.

Among those in attendance was Alisha O'Connor, one of four judges who narrowed the field of 50-plus poems down to three, and then down to the very best. She said the top three had two things in common.

"The main theme of the majority of them talked about some life experience, so it was relatable," said O'Connor. "Also, they used voice in them, but mainly because they were relatable to what's going on now and how we are trying to be inclusive, including equality and equity. They encapsulated that theme."

Joyce Beasley, president of the Hardin County NAACP chapter, said the annual gathering is meant to be more than just a fun time for everybody.

"It's really important that we continue the work that [King] started," said Beasley. "We need to all come together to solve the racial injustices and inequalities that are going on today. We cannot avoid them. So coming together like this demonstrates that we are speaking with one voice and it's really nice to have the children write about this timely topic. They poured their hearts into it; that's why they were chosen."

After over an hour devoted to visiting with others, eating lunch, and hearing a rousing speech by guest speaker and area school teacher Kellye Cunningham-Watkins, Army retired Lt. Col. Terry Owens stood before the microphone to announce the winners of the poster, poetry and essay contests. Elementary school children competed in the poster contest, middle schoolers in the poetry contest, and high schoolers in the essay contest.

Teagan's name was called first as the third-place winner. She rose and went forward to receive her award. After hearing the second-place winner, Annabelle then heard her name called -- first place. She walked forward to receive her award, then stood at the podium to read her poem to everybody.

Annabelle received a standing ovation at the end of the poem. She also received hugs -- from her sister, mom Carolyn, and Teagan, who sat next to her during the event. Annabelle's father, Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., turned around at the other end of the table, smiled at her and nodded: "Good job."