CLEVELAND — We recently told you about Cleveland’s Piano Man Mike Petrone screening his original play "Caesar the Musical" to Cleveland high school students. The students were then asked to write a rap, poem, or essay about Caesar. Well, the competition is over, the winners revealed, and a very special sophomore takes the top honor.
"I think Shakespeare, like student poetry, needs to be heard. It's important for kids to experience things like this," said Mary Ellen Carras, AP Coordinator for Cleveland Metropolitan School District, who put together the "Caesar" screening through a grant she secured for students in underserved areas. Carras also helped create the essay contest – officially named the Carpe Diem Awards.
"They totally dove in and understood it and then had a passion for it that I didn’t expect at all," said Petrone.
Over $1200 in prize money – including a $500 grand prize - was put up by Petrone, along with local donor Joy Anzalone, and small business investor and Caesar actor Michael Jeans.
"I wanted to step up and contribute. After I saw the passion the students had for the play, I had to come aboard for the contest," says Anzalone.
"I try to be intentional about how I spend my time. I want kids to know I have time for them. To see professionals in the community take time out to spend it with them is important," said Jeans.
26 students submitted poems, raps, essays, even a dance.
"There was one rap called Julius Caesar vs the Soothsayer, and they had two characters. There was one poem called Oh, Brutus, and then there was another poem written from Brutus’ perspective," said Petrone.
The incredible student talent made judging tough for Petrone, Anzalone, Carras and Jeans.
"I stayed up night and early morning re-reading and re-reading, because there were so many good ones," said Anzalone.
"The quality of poems and essays and raps that they put forward totally blew us away. We had no idea. It was mindblowing," said Petrone.
"Some of the pieces were so well put together, we had to ask ourselves “Is this someone else’s piece? Did a professional write this?" said Jeans.
The Carpe Diem Award winners were announced at the Marriott Grand Ballroom in downtown Cleveland on Wednesday. The $500 grand prize went to Ginn Academy 10th grader Rameer Askew, who wrote a poem from Caesar’s perspective after death.
"He's pretty much talking to the 23 that killed him, as to how he felt, and still wishing them the best and peace," said Askew.
Askew takes 3 buses to get to Ginn Academy, lost his older brother to COVID 9 months ago, and helps take care of his ailing single mom, two sisters and a niece. He says his mother inspires him to push through.
"I believe in staying optimistic and ambitious for my mother, because my mother, she’s just now getting home. She was in the hospital for a year. She had failure of kidney, so I gotta stay positive for her. One day I wanna take care of her and my sisters, so that way they don’t have to worry about no bills, no nothing," said Askew.
There are plans to release “Caesar The Musical” this coming fall.
More Education Station coverage: