Hitting the ground running as she returned to the island, reggae star Etana spent the weekend reading the hundreds of entries to the ‘Be Strong, Be Free’ essay competition.

Etana, who landed in Jamaica after a European tour and a string of North American appearances, led a panel that consisted of Andre Morris, Ronnie Sutherland and Brandon Allwood.

Sutherland, who is a former teacher, is the current vice president of marketing at CVM TV, while Morris is a member of Etana’s team with a degree in education. Allwood is a member of the artiste’s public relations team and a recipient of the Prime Minister’s National Award in Journalism.

The panel met over two days, pouring over the entries to select the best 15 entries, “I was very happy when I got back and saw that so many people entered, and not just that so many people entered but so too the wide cross-section of places that the entrants are from,” said Etana.

The artiste said that there were entries coming from all across the island, with the majority of the 100-plus essays coming from areas outside of the corporate area. She said too, that she was impressed at the way in which the students expressed what their challenges were.

“A lot of the problems we saw coming up over and over again was the difficulty in accessing books and other kinds of educational resources as well as severe issues with violence in their communities and peer pressure. I’m really glad that we got our young people thinking about how they can overcome these challenges and really become more than average,” Etana remarked.

The winners are Sicourney Jackson (The Queens School), Keo Rodrigues (St Georges College), Tianna Samuels (Hydel Preparatory), Jadan Jones (Ardenne High School), Chevel Johnson (Jonathan Grant High School), Shaquille Clarke (Knockalva Technical), Kyle Burke (Campion College), Abigail Scarlett (St Andrew High School for Girls), Shawnna Richards (Wolmer’s High School for Girls), Jahmaali McLeod (Calabar High School), Akeliaha Holmes (Convent of Mercy Academy – Alpha), Jashelle Cooke (Clarendon College), Daniel Gregg (Calabar High School) and Yolanda Ebanks (Black River High School) and Mikalia Ebanks (Black River High School).

The 15 winners each got a brand new Jansport knapsack with school necessities such as dictionaries, stationary and geometry sets. Winners also got an autographed copy of Etana’s second album, Free Expressions, and a whopping $15,000 gift voucher tenable for books and other school supplies.

Meanwhile, the artiste is indeed looking forward to becoming more involved in charity, and getting more involved with Jamaica’s youth.

“We all have a social responsibility to help our fellow man, and I really want to focus on helping as many young people as I can and really getting more involved with them.”