Bobcats Win $50,000 Grand Prize in Larry Nance, Jr. Zero Hunger Challenge

In a remarkable display of innovation and dedication to their community, a team of students from Frederick A. Douglass High School, part of the KIPP New Orleans Schools network, has earned $50,000 after walking away with the top honor at the Larry Nance, Jr. Zero Hunger Challenge.

The competition, an initiative created by the New Orleans Pelicans' forward, aims to inspire high school students to develop innovative solutions for addressing food insecurity in their communities.

The winning team, consisting of Akira Sims (12th grade), Taylor Morris (11th grade), Joaquim Floyd (11th grade), Ostin Brock (12th grade), and Amari Ann Shepherd (12th grade), impressed the judges with their "Keep It Growing Boxes" project, securing the grand prize to implement their solution aimed at combating food insecurity in New Orleans.

The students' passion for addressing food insecurity in New Orleans was not a new endeavor. Through their courses at Bard Early College at Frederick A. Douglass High School, where they are all enrolled and will be awarded an Associate of Arts degree upon graduation, the team had been introduced to the issue of hunger in their community.

The Bard Early College, a unique program that allows high school students to earn college credits while completing their high school diploma, provided the students with a strong foundation in subjects like food sustainability and urban sociology. "We had been taking classes with Bard and the conversation of trying to solve hunger was way before the Zero Hunger Challenge,” Amari said. “We saw it as an opportunity, and we said, 'Let's compete.'"

Upon winning the prize, Akira expressed the team's excitement and gratitude, stating, "It feels great, of course. This can really help with our future. I am proud of us, and this is really black excellence. We are defining greatness with this opportunity."

The team's winning concept involves hosting "Sip and Grow" classes, where participants learn about food sustainability, receive allergen testing, and gain knowledge on growing foods tailored to their specific dietary needs. Attendees then take home custom-made "Keep It Growing Boxes" to cultivate their own produce in various settings.

"We were tasked with coming up with a way to solve hunger in the city of New Orleans. We saw it as an opportunity, and our plan was to create Keep It Growing Boxes and offer Sip and Grow classes, with an emphasis on no alcohol,” Amari explained. “In these classes, participants will learn how to grow foods for themselves, get allergen tested, and discover which foods are specifically good for their diets, needs, and bodies."

The team also proposed larger community versions of the "Keep It Growing Boxes" to be placed in areas with high populations of unhoused people. "Volunteers will help make the boxes and keep them flourishing, so people can come and take what they need,” Akira added.

During the presentation, the students impressed the judges with their confidence, preparedness, and how their presentation emphasized practical solutions over statistics. "We weren't focused on the problem like our opponents; we were focused on the solutions," said Ostin. “That set us apart from the others.”

"Our presentation can also start today; we can start building now," added Taylor.

The team's personal connection to New Orleans and their desire to create a lasting impact in their community fueled their success. "We are from New Orleans, so it was easy to focus on our community," explained Joaquim. "We have a more in-depth understanding, and due to our first-hand experience, we understand a way to fix it. We have a brighter and broader scope."

Moving forward, the students plan to implement their project by creating a "Keep It Growing Klub" at their school, collaborating with organizations like Recirculating Farms to involve more people in their initiative. "We have the support of our school and Recirculating Farms, and we plan to follow through with our plan,” Amari said.

Reflecting on their experience, Joaquim emphasized the importance of community connection and collaboration, stating, "There isn't one solution to fix everything. If we combine our ideas, we can create a more lasting and impactful change."

"If you want to make a change, just do it – go for it,” Akira encouraged. “If you really care and want the best for your community as we do, just make the leap."

The victory not only highlights the students' ingenuity but also underscores the role of education in empowering youth to address pressing social issues. As they embark on implementing their project, these young leaders serve as inspirations for future community engagement initiatives.