Bob Dylan Center Tulsa, OK
Mavis Staples, photo by Phil Clarkin
Photo by Phil Clarkin



An Opportunity for Tulsa Public School Students in Grades 11 and 12

The Bob Dylan Center announces the inauguration of the Mavis Staples Freedom Highway Essay Award, an educational initiative that highlights the center’s commitment to encouraging younger generations to harness the power of music in their scholastic endeavors, the honing of their world views and their creative modes of self-expression.

Inspired by and named in honor of the legendary R&B singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples, and supported by center Founding Partners Bob Ramsey and Jenny Norton, the Freedom Highway Essay Award provides high-school students with an opportunity to explore the ways in which music can serve as a catalyst for positive change. Participants will reflect on themes of social justice as it is shaped and reflected by music.

Working in partnership with the Tulsa Public Schools, the Bob Dylan Center will invite students in grades 11 and 12 to write essays on music that moves them personally, gives voice to their emotions, and addresses timely social issues such as inequality, racism and discrimination.

Essay Prompts

Participants will write their essays in response to their choice of one of the prompts presented in the following video:

The submission window for the 2024 Mavis Staples Freedom Highway Essay Contest is now closed.

Details regarding the 2025 contest will be announced soon.

Essay Contest Details

EligibilityThe contest is open to students in 11th and 12th grades in the Tulsa Public Schools district.
Suggested Word Count500 words
Prizes1st place: $5,000
2nd place: $1,000
Due DateEntries must be received online at by 11:59 p.m. CST on Sunday, April 28.
Rule on AIThe use of AI or any automated tools to generate or enhance content is strictly prohibited. By submitting an essay, participants confirm that their work is not from AI-generated content. Use of standard spell check and grammar check tools are accepted. Any violation may result in disqualification. Software will be used to detect plagiarism and/or use of AI.
JudgingEssays will be reviewed by a panel of educators, community leaders, and center staff members. The top five candidates will be interviewed at their school prior to the final winners being selected.
Notification/Recognition of WinnersWinning entries will be published on the Bob Dylan Center website, and first- and second-place winners will receive cash prizes of $5,000 and $1,000, respectively. Winners also will be acknowledged and take part in a brief ceremony at Cain’s Ballroom on Saturday, May 25, immediately followed by a concert with Mavis Staples. Up to 10 additional runners-up will receive a pair of tickets to the event.


Student Information

Student Email(Required)
How did you learn about the essay contest?(Required)


Please note: this contest is currently only open to Title 1 schools in the Tulsa Public School district.
Teacher Name
If completed as a class assignment.


Accepted file types: pdf, Max. file size: 63 MB.


Not required if student is 18 years or older.

About Mavis Staples

Hailed by NPR as “one of America’s defining voices of freedom and peace,” Mavis Staples is a once-in-a-generation artist whose impact on music and culture is impossible to overstate. Staples is both a Blues and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer; a civil rights icon; a three-time GRAMMY Award winner and a GRAMMY lifetime achievement awardee; a chart-topping soul, gospel and R&B pioneer; a National Arts Awards Lifetime Achievement recipient; ranked #46 in Rolling Stone’s Top 200 Singers of All Time; and a Kennedy Center honoree. She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., performed at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, and sang in Barack Obama’s White House. Staples has collaborated with everyone from Prince and Bob Dylan to Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, blown away countless festivalgoers from Newport Folk and Glastonbury to Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, and appeared on every major television talk show. As beloved musician Levon Helm of The Band once said, Staples is, simply, “the truth.”

About the Bob Dylan Center

The Bob Dylan Center inspires and celebrates fearless creativity by exploring the music and artistry of the Nobel Prize–winning singer-songwriter as a catalyst for personal expression and cultural change.