At the annual talent competition hosted by Omega Psi Phi Fraternity’s Psi Nu Chapter, held March 3 in Arlington, high school students battled for cash prizes with piano, singing and spoken word.

But according to event chairman Kyle Hill, the production is more than a talent show — it’s a competition with a mission. A fraternity tradition that originated in 1946, he explained, it was designed to “address the unequal opportunities afforded to some of America’s youth.” The goal this year, organizer Mike Byrd said, was to allow teens to display their talents and as well as “to provide a positive influence and a source of motivation” for them.

By and large, the students who took to the stage at Walt Whitman Middle School had already created those opportunities for themselves, and they brought to the event motivation in abundance — for showing off their artistic talents, as well as for their educational and community endeavors.

Andre Taylor, 15, of Northwood High School, who took home the $400 first-place prize for his piano solo, “Misty,” said he performs regularly at venues across the Washington area and plans to major in music in college.

After the awards ceremony, he sought out the judges’ advice on how to hone his talents. Taylor will represent the Psi Nu Chapter in the District Talent Hunt Program in Roanoke.

The $150 second-place award was split in a tie between Kayla MacAfee, a junior at McNamara High School, and Kristen Ellis, a senior at the District’s School Without Walls. MacAfee, who wrote and performed “Beauty,” a poem in tribute to Whitney Houston, recently won a place on the D.C. Youth Slam Poetry Team, which will take her around the country for spoken word performances. Up next: She has her eye on the University of Miami in Florida, and a major in child psychology.

Ellis, who performed an a cappella rendition of Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain,” said, “I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I want to become a recording artist, but I also want to open up an HIV charity that’s supported by the performing arts.”

With experience as a sexual and peer educator with Teens Against the Spread of AIDS, “teaching adolescents between 13 and 25 about how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS through poetry, songs, dance [and] skits,” she said she’s gathering the tools to do so.

The $100 third-place prize went to 17-year-old Deion Lamberth of Westlake High School, who said his poem, “Poverty Is Real,” was inspired “when I was watching the news one day and I also witnessed my little cousin crying because of difficult situations.”

A sample line: “As the years pass, they go fast, get tired of stepping over trash, watching mommy sell her body through bulletproof glass.” He has his eye on “college and staying active in the community” to address the social issues that inspired his piece.

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