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Iberia Parish elementary student wins national award for documentary

Chloe willis.jpg
Posted at 5:55 PM, Sep 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-30 19:28:20-04

NEW IBERIA — A sixth grader in New Iberia is celebrating her win from the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes.

"I did not think I was going to win, because I was competing against the whole country and there are a lot of talented people," Chloe Willis said.

Willis won 'Outstanding Elementary School Project' for her research and documentary, which focused on her great grandfather, Reverend Dr. T.J. Jemison.

"I didn't realize how much he had done to the world," Willis says in the documentary.

Willis says after studying the civil rights movement in third grade, she found out about her great grandfather.

"There was a sentence where I said, 'I wish I had family that would be an influence in the civil rights movement,' and that's when my mother showed me a picture of my great grandfather with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Willis explained.

Jemison led the Baton Rouge bus boycott in 1953. The bus boycott did not end segregation on buses, but did allow Black people to sit down. That protest later influenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to hold a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.

When Willis's teacher found about her connection, the two put together a ten-minute documentary for a national competition that showcases unrecognized local heroes.

"When I found out that he influenced Martin Luther King Jr., I thought that he should be known too, because he influenced him to do it, and if he didn't do a bus boycott, I don't think Martin Luther King would have done one," she said.

Jemison died when Willis was only three years old.

"If he would have lived until I was six, I probably would have known more than my ABC's," Willis added.

Although she doesn't remember her great grandfather, his story now inspires her.

"I feel like I can make even bigger change based on his actions on what he did during the civil rights movement. When I grow up, I think I will be a pediatrician, and find a cure for cancer."

WATCH her documentary here.

Read more about the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes, here.