Barbara Ricks, 11, has lived most of her life in a small apartment in Northeast Washington. Blas Nunez-Neto, also 11, was born in Argentina and came to an apartment in Northwest Washington just 2 1/2 years ago.
Yesterday both youngsters stood under a crystal chandelier in a Supreme Court conference room to receive $100 savings bonds and warm handshakes from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The two were winners of a Law Day essay contest that asked sixth graders in District public schools for their thoughts on how to make Washington a "special city for special people."
Barbara read from her essay that she tries to help the city by "not fighting" and by trying to talk to other children when she sees them "doing bad things." She said she also helps dress and feed her handicapped twin sister.
"Being a special person is not always easy," she added. "It takes a lot of patience and effort."
"Nobody is perfect," Blas wrote in his essay. "But everyone is special. I could be more special by encouraging people and never saying bad words." He attends Mann School in Northwest.
Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justice Thurgood Marshall spoke at the ceremony, which also honored 14 runners-up in the essay contest.
"I want all of you to know that at least to the members of this court all of you are important special people," Marshall said. "For in this country individual rights is what it is all about."
Barbara, who attends Thomas School in Northeast, said she shares a bedroom with her sister and 6-year-old brother. Her mother, Helena Payton, said her daughter often warms up supper for the other children and goes shopping for groceries herself.
"The essays give you an insight about what's happening with children in the city," said Cecilia Marshall, the justice's wife, who has been a judge for the contest since it was started by the National Capital Law League 10 years ago. "Over the years some of the essays have gotten more tragic. More mention dope and people passing out on the sidewalk. Thank goodness, these students have come through."