Dance Moves Me 

by Ayannah Garcia

The final breath in the dark of the curtains leaves me nervous. Yet I still must walk out into the light on stage…

As the music starts, I let go of any boundaries I’ve had before and just dance—letting my body flow with the music. Let the audience fade away until it’s just me, the music, and the stage. With the moves I learned from all my years of dancing, I create a masterpiece in my eyes. When the music builds, I do a magnificent move, a gravity-defying leap off the ground. I envision myself in front of many people, wowed throughout my whole performance. As the music comes to a stop, I step out and take a low bow thanking the audience for watching my great performance and thanking everyone who got me there. As my surroundings begin to change until I am back in the studio, only practicing my dance all alone, I calm myself from the high of dancing…

Performing in front of strangers—four of whom that are judging you down to the last breath—can be nerve-racking and stressful. No, it can be terrifying! Terrifying to the point where my lungs barely function, and my legs are rooted to the ground like trees. One wrong gesture, one move forgotten, a simple stumble, or going too fast (or slow) could mess up the whole dance. More stress hits when you realize you are being judged by everyone and not just the people who are supposed to be judging you.

Yet I still dance. I love to… for the adrenaline rush. For the recognition that what I did paid off. I still dance to prove to them that I won with my talent. That I get to tell a story my way, with my moves, my expressions, and my talent. I worked hard to get to this level. How else can I make them see the story I feel in my bones?

When I dance, the music I hear inspires me to move. It flows through moves like water, and I hit the accents like steel striking metal. To become a warrior of my creation fighting on the battlefield showing no vulnerability with the strength of my movements, yet also exposing my vulnerability as it’s etched on the 

side of my face. Feeling the story flow from my mind through my body, I etch it into the floor with each step like words on a page—which I call my dance. And when the time comes to perform on stage, I might be ready. As I step on the stage where the lights are hot on my skin, the music starts and now I let go. This time, for real, I let the music guide me without restraint. I’m no longer just flowing with it but following it, letting it take me places I have been, but never really explored. One masterpiece, one gravity-defying leap and breathtaking move later, I calm myself and bow. This time the audience is thanking me for a great performance. This time it ends with a trophy. 

About Ayannah Garcia

Ayannah Garcia is a freshman attending Richwoods High School, where she takes part in the Pre-IB program, the Royalettes dance team, and the drama club. Outside of school, she loves to dance, read, journal, travel with family, and play with her dog. In addition to these activities, she is currently a member of the Finale Group of the Greater Peoria Illinois Chapter of Jack and Jill, an organization for young African American individuals who want to serve the community, and a member of her church’s youth group.

About Qaasaani Little

Qaasaani Little is a freshman at Richwoods High School. Little is a member of Student Leadership Team and Student Council. She has loved art for as long as she can remember, including painting and drawing. Little’s artwork is for sale. She also loves animals, after school activities, and is inspired by her mom for always pushing her to do my best. 

I’ll Pass on the Covid Lemonade

By Anjali Yedavalli

Censorship is a hot-button issue, but numbers show that it doesn’t work.

When my 7th grade English teacher gave us the task of writing a paper on “censorship,” I remember the room going completely silent—it was the first opinion paper we had ever had to write. Before we could contemplate any longer, she quickly added: 

“You will not be penalized on whatever your opinion is. I just want to see how you are able to flesh out your argument. Using the skills we’ve learned in class, of course. There is one condition: You will have to wait until after you have turned in your papers to learn my personal opinion.” 

Immediately, we were all intrigued. Each of us did our research, put together our arguments, and turned in our papers, wondering what the relevance of such a topic of censorship actually had in the real world. Was this just a thought experiment in the microcosm of our English class?

My mind immediately recalled that experience the second I heard about the current book bans occurring in states like Virginia, Florida, and Texas. According to an article from BBC, a mother of two from Richmond, VA, called for the removal of the book The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person after claiming it was “not the kind of book that should be available to children.” The mother, a local activist in the area, is known for running Moms for Liberty, an organization that compiles lists of books deemed to spread “racist and radical ideologies” to young readers.

The same article describes a phenomenon called “Covid Lemonade,” a term coined by a member of Moms for Liberty. The term describes how the pandemic has caused parents to be much more engaged in their kids’ learning during the pandemic, making some realize that they didn’t agree with the material their kids were reading in class. However, reading “banned” books seems to be beneficial for young readers. In a study published by the American Psychological Association, reading banned books is associated with “increased civic engagement and little risk of antisocial behavior.” In an interview with Arizona State University English professors, the act of banning books has been described as an act of simple ignorance. Parents seem to think certain material is not appropriate for their children, but the reality is that these books reflect the students’ daily lives, which are often complex and deal with themes of identity, race, gender, sexuality, etc.

The day after we turned in our papers, we saw a black poster at the back of class next to my teacher’s desk. It was a giant red X over the word “Censorship.” At that point, her opinion was clear—and as time goes on, it is even clearer as to why. As tumultuous times bring about a desire to protect children from the “scary” things, it is all the more important to stay educated on the political landscape and spread knowledge and compassion. In other words, for now, I think I’ll pass on the “Covid Lemonade.” 

About Anjali Yedavalli

Anjali Yedavalli is a senior at Dunlap High School. Aside from taking academically rigorous classes, Anjali is involved in Speech Team (IHSA State qualifier in 2020), Student Council, UNICEF Club, the school plays, Jazz Choir, and is the Madrigal Queen of Dunlap’s Madrigal choir. Anjali’s main goal in the community is spreading passion for both academics and creativity. She has organized and led multiple public speaking workshops for middle school students and volunteered her time at North South Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding underprivileged children in India. In addition, she has joined and contributed to the Dunlap Young Musicians, a student-created music group that performs at senior homes on the holidays. She is also active in her Sunday School (Chinmaya Mission) and has helped write promotional songs and plays to help fundraise for the school. Last but not least, Anjali is a classically trained Bharatanatyam dancer of Mythili Dance Academy and has contributed to shows that have raised over $500k for a variety of charities.

Art by Aryanne Westfall

Ary Westfall is a junior Interactive Media major and Theatre Arts minor attending Bradley University. She is the social media manager for DAT, creates webcomics in her free time, and enjoys all forms of sequential art. Ary hopes to break into the comic world or find work in pre-production art for television. 

What Happens Now?

by Neve Kelley

The pandemic has far-reaching implications, including the future (or demise) of higher education…

We’ve heard it all before: The pandemic has created a time of uncertainty that has affected every facet of our lives. But we’ll go completely back to normal eventually, right? Maybe, maybe not. Because of the pandemic, college enrollment has been down and some worry that the decline may be a trend outlasting COVID. Though college campuses have largely reopened, people are not choosing to pursue higher education at the rates they were before. Many students are questioning if college is truly valuable, and it doesn’t seem like this idea is just a short-term issue resulting from the restrictions we’ve been under over the last 

two years. 

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, colleges and universities have lost nearly 1 million students in pursuit of higher education. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, higher education enrollment fell 2.7% for the fall of 2021 following a 2.5% drop in enrollment for the fall of 2020. Undergraduate enrollment alone fell by 3.1% (about 465,000 students) over the last year. Even community colleges, which pride themselves on affordability (as easily accessible institutions) may have to resort to raising tuition due to the decline in enrollment (The Washington Post). Researchers and enrollment staff among many others in the collegiate system are nervous that this generation is continually losing motivation to get a higher education. Specifically, Catalina Cifuentes, who works to promote college access in Los Angeles, said in an interview with NPR, “It really does feel like we are losing a generation.” Cifuentes also notes that because the pandemic has put us in survival mode, “Things like college and college applications, they take a backseat.”

Doug Shapiro, the director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, believes that students may be looking at friends a year ahead of them who chose not to go to college. Because many seem to be doing fine, the next class may choose not to go themselves (The Washington Post). Job openings are now at a record high, according to Clearinghouse data, and people may choose to enter the job force as soon as they can, rather than pursue higher education. Especially in wake of the pandemic, rising tuition costs have deterred people that must support their families away from pursuing higher education (The Hechinger Report). These students could be taking a gap year to wait until conditions return to normal—but the longer the pandemic lasts, the more time off people have and the less motivated they will be to return to school.

Will conditions return to normal? Will more students return to colleges? Right now, there are no answers. But people are hopeful that students have not yet given up. Perhaps the time off will ensure students are ready financially and mentally, to give their full attention to education. “I’m really hopeful that students will go back,” Cifuentes says. “It’s not too late” (NPR).

About Neve Kelley

Neve Kelley a senior in the International Baccalaureate Program at Richwoods High School. In addition to being in an academically rigorous program, she is also heavily involved in community and school theatre productions. She takes private voice lessons and has been involved with choir and madrigals at Richwoods. Kelley is the co-editor in chief of her school paper, sits on the executive board of student council, and is in various school clubs. She also spends much of her time working as a barista at Leaves ‘n Beans in Peoria Heights. 

The Virtual Lock 

by Izaak Garcia

Do you know if your personal data is safe online?

When we think of security, thoughts of home defense systems or locked doors may come to mind—perhaps the odd gated fence as well. But a lot of the time, we fail to think of a different kind of security that are more virtual in nature. People spend so much time ensuring that their physical property is safe they often neglect to think of their virtual property: the data and information stored online. 

In a world where the internet holds a gigantic amount of digital information that is growing by the second, with billions of people having access to that information via their smartphones and devices, the need for information security is essential. But what people may not know is that there is more being stored online in your digital footprint than your personal high score on Candy Crush. Phone numbers, email addresses, bank account numbers, social security numbers, and much more can all be accessed online. Without the proper protection, that information can be stolen in a heartbeat. Just looking back in this last year, according to Forbes, over 280 million people have been affected by some sort of data breach, from having to reset a password to having their entire bank account being drained. And it’s not just careless internet users being affected by these breaches. Companies suffer major revenue losses due to cybercrime, losing an estimated 1.79 million dollars per minute (Info Security). Sounds crazy, right? Well, not so much. The number of cyber threats faced by individuals and companies is massive. With vicious malware (files that disrupt a computer) and other attacks being sent out every minute, there are bound to be data breaches that result from human error. For a hacker, these individual mistakes are like a golden ticket into Willy Wonka’s Cyber Chocolate Factory. 

There is good news, though. Like with all attacks, there are ways to repair the damage, and even prevent them from happening in the first place. Companies around the United States (and even around the globe) are starting to allocate more resources towards cybersecurity, investing in consultants, network security managers, and upgraded systems to defend their information. While corporations have been fortifying their organizations for decades, digital security is a relatively new concept on the individual level. But, the good thing is, it’s not just companies that can employ better methods to protect their valuable data. Everyone can! In the past, security used to be as simple as picking your pet’s first name as a password and using it for everything. Now, it’s a lot different, but that doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself. Safety measures such as a longer password, two factor authentication, and certain VPNs (virtual private networks) can help deter an attack long enough for it to be stopped, or to discourage it from happening. We all want to protect the things we hold dear to us, and with this information, and these methods, we are one step closer to securing what we love.  

About Izaak Garcia

Izaak Garcia is currently a freshman at the University of Southern California, majoring in Cinema and Media Studies with a minor in Applied Cybersecurity. He has played soccer with FC Peoria, Dunlap, and Richwoods for over a decade combined. Garcia has also played tennis for 4 years, securing a spot on both junior varsity and varsity teams. Along with this, he has competed with the Richwoods Worldwide Youth Science and Engineering team for Biology and English for 2 years and earned multiple awards for the school. Garcia is also heavily involved with the arts. As a multi-instrumentalist, he has played the saxophone for 8 years and piano for 2 years. During his junior year of high school, he was involved in theater at Richwoods as stage crew and manager. He helped with two productions and was being trained to be stage manager for senior year before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted school. Outside of school activities, Garcia is involved in Jack and Jill of America (an organization for young African American men and women to serve the community). He served as his chapter’s treasurer during his freshman year of high school. Along with Jack and Jill of America, he enjoys coding, learning new languages, and playing video games.

Women’s history month-PERIOD.

by Kianna Goss

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s stop

making menstruation a taboo subject…

Women’s history month celebrates the contributions women made to events and history. In honor of this month, I want to highlight and recognize those who experience a menstrual cycle. As a woman, I can say that a lot of people don’t know the challenges our bodies go through. 

I got my first period when I was nine years old, one week before my 10th birthday. No one prepares you for the shame and guilt you feel after your first few periods. When my first period came, I stayed in my room all day. Also, I used to be embarrassed to carry pads or purchase them at the store. However, I eventually got over it because… it’s natural and it happens! But the real question is: Why do girls feel this way when they get their period? Is it because schools don’t provide enough information about the menstrual cycle? Or is it because there is no standard method to inform those who menstruate in their households? 

The blame is on both sides, according to Beth Greenfield, the senior editor of Yahoo News. The results of a 2014 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that just under half of middle schools and 66 percent of high schools teach lessons about human development (including puberty) in a required class. For elementary schools, that dropped to 21 percent—suggesting that too many kids in the U.S. learn nothing about puberty at school until they are going through it. Children, particularly girls, are heading into puberty earlier than ever, with some now getting their periods as young as 8 or 9.

The statistics from that survey are mind-blowing because these are things young people need to know about their bodies. Many are left on their own to figure out if they want to use pads, how thick of a pad to get, how often to change them, to buy the kind with or without wings, or use tampons. Additionally, many parents avoid having conversations about menstruation. Maybe it makes them feel like their child is growing up. In my case, my mom didn’t teach me about periods until I got one. I feel that if I would have known about periods before that day, I would have felt better prepared for dealing with the situation when I got mine. 

Moving forward, there are so many opportunities to have open conversations in schools and homes about menstrual cycles. There should be more resources for young girls to receive a pad or tampon in their schools and communities. Here is a list of resources for individuals who need tampons or pads: 

  1. Alliance for Period supplies: They partner with over 75 programs nationwide and you can find out if they partner with an organization in your area. 
  2. #HappyPeriod: This organization provides menstrual kits for individuals all around the country. On their site, you can sign up to receive some kits in your neighborhood.  

About Kianna Goss

Kianna Goss is a senior at Bradley University, majoring in journalism with a double minor in sociology and advertising with public relations. The importance of community involvement is to use your voice. Kianna’s voice is one of the strongest platforms she has, and utilizes it through her writing. Being a Black woman, Kianna often writes to give a voice to the Black community to gain control over the media that portrays them in a negative way. Kianna is a writer with different form expressions. She has written poetically, through blogs, newspapers, and opinion pieces. Kianna always looks for more opportunities to grow as a writer and person. Kianna is currently the social media director for Her Campus, works as a peer mentor for Bradley’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and is a team leader/caller at the Bradley Fund. Being able to explore her creativity is what she loves most about Bradley. The Communications department is molding her into the journalist she aspires to be.

About Faith Marie

Faith Marie is a homeschooled senior in high school who dreams of being an artist entrepreneur one day. She fell in love with creating at a young age and now experiments with all kinds of mediums. You can find her on Instagram at @faithmariedraws.

The Biggie Award: Rasheedah Na’Allah

In March 2022, Big Picture Initiative awarded Dunlap High School Senior Rasheedah Na’Allah the first “Biggie” Award. This award recognizes a Giving Voice contributor who demonstrates an expanded vision of community involvement outside of the pages of this publication. Not only does Ms. Na’Allah qualify for the award, but she was the inspiration behind it!

On Wednesday, February 9, 2022, a forum titled “Despite The Best Intentions: How Schools Contribute to Racial Inequality” was held at Bradley University. The event offered a critical look at the school system and a discussion that offered solutions. The organizer? It was none other than Ms. Na’Allah. The keynote speaker for the evening was Dr. Amanda Lewis, LAS Distinguished Professor and Director of Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Panelists included Ms. Na’Allah, Dr. Juan Rios Vega, Associate Professor of Educational Studies at Bradley University, and Chama St Louis, Incubator Lead Organizer at NBWC and Entrepreneur.

The Giving Voice team was not only blown away by this incredible (and very well attended event), but Ms. Na’Allah’s continued display of leadership. In April 2021, she produced a report titled “Racial Disparities and Inequities in the Education System,” the result of a survey of both current and past Dunlap students. She serves on the Peoria City/County Racial Justice and Equity Joint Commission as a steering committee member, is an Illinois Global Scholar, volunteers regularly for organizations like Peoria Midwest Food Bank, is the Dunlap High School Yearbook Senior Editor and Contributor… and the list literally goes on and on.

The Giving Voice team at Big Picture wanted to find a way to honor Ms. Na’Allah’s accomplishments, and to those students who will invariably be inspired by her to make their community a better more equitable place to live, thrive, and enjoy life.

On March 4, 2022, Big Picture Executive Director Dr. Mae Gilliland Wright and Big Picture Co-Founders Doug and Eileen Leunig presented Ms. Na’Allah with the award and a $250 check in front of her peers and teachers. Student illustrator Terri Silva created the portrait seen at the beginning of this article and on the cover.

The award was created by local iron artist Jam Rohr of Black Dog Metal Arts. The cash award is made possible through a grant from the Gilmore Foundation. The next award due date is April 30, 2022. Find more information and nominate someone today.

About Terri Silva

Terri Silva is a 20-year-old sophomore at Bradley University pursuing a major in Television Arts with a minor in Interdisciplinary Film Studies. For Silva, art is a hobby in addition to a potential career, and she takes it very seriously. Silva thrives when she tells stories in all forms: drawings, films, writings, and more. Silva thinks of herself as a creative mind that wants to share ideas with others, while also taking in what they have to offer as well.