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Wangari Maathai Essay Competition

Wangari Maathai

The essay prize competition is named in honor of Wangari Maathai ( b.1940-d. 2011), the Kenyan scholar and activist who, in 2004, became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace prize. Wangari Maathai was Kenyan environmentalist who began a movement to reforest her country by paying poor women a few shillings to plant trees. She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and authored four books: The Green Belt Movement; Unbowed: A Memoir; The Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth.

Born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya, Wangari Muta Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree (1971). She was internationally acknowledged for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. According to the United Nations, at the time of her death, her Green Belt Movement had planted more than 30 million trees in Africa and helped nearly 900,000 women while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.

The essay contest is therefore intended to encourage, in the spirit of Dr. Maathai, excellence in graduate and undergraduate scholarship on the experience of the Africa and it's Diaspora. A prize of $300 will be awarded for the best original essay on any topic in Afroamerican, Caribbean, and/or African studies in each of two categories: (a) Undergraduate student; and (b) Graduate student.

The judges for the competition will be drawn from among the faculty and faculty associates in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. The competition is open to all University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students working on Afroamerican, Caribbean, or African topics. Since DAAS is a multi-disciplinary program, the papers may be from a wide range of fields including, among others, anthropology, architecture, art, art history, business, drama, education, history, economics, education, health, journalism, law, literature, medicine, music, natural resources, nursing, policy studies, political science, psychology, social work, sociology, urban planning, women's studies, natural resources and environment. Papers written for courses are eligible.



Please send the following two items in the same email, but as separate email attachments. The attachments should be either Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word documents.

  1. A completed essay coversheet
    Your cover sheet should include the following information:
    Student status (undergraduate or graduate)
    Essay title
    Course for which you wrote the essay (including semester and year)
    Email address

  2. Your essay
    The essay should be no more than 6,000 words in length (approximately 30 pages).
    It should be typed, one-and-a-half spaced or double-spaced.
    The font should be no smaller than 11 point.
    There must be a title page. The title page must have the title of the essay and the word “graduate” or “undergraduate” directly below it; remove all other identifying information. Do not put your name, email, or course information on the title page.


Essays must be submitted by email to no later than 5:00 p.m., Friday, March 16, 2018.

Important: Depending on your status, write the following in your email subject line: Essay Competition (undergrad) or Essay Competition (grad).

Prizes and certificates will be presented at the DAAS Graduation Ceremony. For further information, email

Past Undergraduate Essay Winners

Alexis Stanton
Essay Title: Healing Hair: A Historical Evolution of Black Women's Hairstories

Jaclyn Sylvain

Essay Title: Golden Handcuffs: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Influence in Senegal

Abigail Celis
Essay Title: Knowledge In Place: Modes of Seeing in Literary and Exhibitionary Narratives of Francophone Africa

Zachary Petroni 
Essay Title: Exploring Exclusion, Contemplating Control: Structures of Violence in Wildlife Conservation in Narok and Laikipia Counties, Kenya

Lauren Myefski
Essay Title: Preserving the History of Shotgun Houses

Nicole Yadon
Essay Title: The Rise and Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick

Emily Schiller
Essay Title: To Give Medicine Back to the People: The Black Panther Party and Community Health Activism

Kara Van Patten
Essay Title: Lest It Not Be forgotten: The Impact and Legacy of Idlewild

Rachel A. Nisch
Essay Title: The Transformation of the African American Domestic Landscape: Who Knew Grass Could Mean So Much?

Lauren Silverman
Essay Title: NGOs in Kenya: Potential for True Development?

Elizabeth M. Griffin
Essay Title: Another Side of Slave Religion: African Muslims in the United States

Gabriel Peoples
Essay Title: Stopping the Pattern: Hip Hop and Its Potential for Revolutionary Activism and Praxis in the Role of the DJ and the Cypher