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Personality: Jalia L. Hardy

Spotlight on state winner of VML’s ‘If I Were Mayor’ essay contest

4/6/2018, 1:45 p.m.
If Jalia Hardy were mayor of Richmond, she would focus on the city’s economy as well as youths and educational ...

If Jalia Hardy were mayor of Richmond, she would focus on the city’s economy as well as youths and educational programs. She would listen to ideas and suggestions from citizens and create a nonprofit organization that would give care packages of food and toiletries to the homeless. She also would start an annual “Kindness Week,” a time when “people just give compliments and help each other, even if they don’t know the person they are helping,” she explains. These are just a few of the ideas Jalia submitted to the Virginia Municipal League’s “If I Were Mayor” essay contest. The annual contest challenges seventh-graders across the state to describe what they would do if they were mayor of their hometown. Judged on originality, persuasiveness, understanding of municipal services and proper use of composition and written expression, the essays are part of VML’s effort to teach students how local government works and how they can become involved in making their communities better. Jalia, a 13-year-old at Binford Middle School in Richmond, won the top prize. Not only was her essay chosen as the best in the region, her work also was chosen the best in the state out of more than 1,000 entries. “Her concern for her community came through in her essay with her focus on youth empowerment, education and care for the homeless,” one judge wrote, according to the VML. “I was also impressed with her expression to listen to others and her reference to helping ‘our city.’ ”
Jalia wrote, “Being mayor is a big responsibility that comes with many challenges and obstacles. It requires cooperation from all its citizens, including youth. Everyone can leave a mark on the world.” As the winner, Jalia received a plaque, a $250 prize and her photo on the cover of the March edition of VML’s Virginia Town & City magazine. “I was so excited and shocked” about winning, Jalia says. Her English teacher, Jonathan Walker, who urged her to enter the contest, called her into his classroom and asked her to get her family on the phone.

When she couldn’t reach her mom, Lisa Hardy, who works at Overby-Sheppard Elementary School, she called her grandmother, Dorothy Rice. Her grandmother’s first reaction? “Did she do something wrong? She’s never been called to the office,” Jalia recalls. “Mr. Walker said it was good news, and then told us that I had won. We were so, so excited and screaming.” Her family posted it on Facebook. Winning a contest and being a leader in school is not new to Jalia. Previously, she won first place and $100 in an essay contest on fire safety. And she participates in numerous extracurricular activities, including the Future Young Leaders program of the Upsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. At Binford, she is a member of the school dance company and serves as house captain for Pride Rock, which she explains is like a student council but without the election process. She also has participated in the Richmond Ballet’s Minds in Motion program since fourth grade and currently is one of the Minds in Motion Ambassadors who perform at schools and throughout the community. “I think becoming a leader happened when I was really young,” Jalia says. “I don’t like copying people and everyone was doing the same thing. I have always gone in a different direction and people naturally follow me. I tend to be a trendsetter.” Her grandmother confirmed her observation. “Jalia is so independent, regardless of the project,” Mrs. Rice says. “She is very determined to do it her way.”
As any leader would, Jalia looked up information before writing her winning essay to make sure her facts were correct about what a mayor does. She says she didn’t want to write an essay and have people say, “That’s not what a mayor does.”