Raimon Malone, a seventh grade student at McLane Middle School in Brandon, recently won a national essay writing contest.

‘Hello.’ Such a simple word can have a powerful impact on the life of a person who feels isolated. When Raimon Malone, a seventh grade student at McLane Middle School in Brandon, began penning his response to the Sandy Hook Promise Start with Hello Student Voices Contest in his student ambassadors class, he never imagined he’d win.

The Sandy Hook Promise is a nonprofit organization committed to empowering individuals to take action in their homes and communities to unite people of all backgrounds and beliefs in the hopes of preventing violence.

This year’s contest responded to the theme of ‘How Start with Hello Builds Community and Breaks Barriers.’ Malone realized he had an incredibly personal connection to the topic; he himself felt isolated after the death of his brother and best friend, Dwayne, due to gang violence. He thought about what he would want others to know about his life before they jumped to conclusions and began to write.

Malone’s essay begins by saying, “I start with hello because no one can read minds. You never know what the next person has going on. People tend to judge before they help, which is one of the many reasons there’s so much hate in the world.”

The process of writing his essay helped Malone come to terms with the hurt and anger he felt from losing Dwayne, but the bigger epiphany came when he won.

He understood there were people out there who felt the same way he did and were touched by his story: “I didn’t realize how big of an accomplishment it was at first. I see things differently. It wasn’t until I realized how big an impact it made that I really knew it was special.”

His journey to healing had been going on for a while, but it was the beginning for so many others in his audience. His mother, Kischa Myers, always knew her son and his writing were special.

“I’m just so proud of him,” she said.

As a student ambassador, he often acts as a bridge between classmates. Malone is especially suited to this as he is a natural observer and takes time to reflect on what he sees. He also never assumes he fully understands what is going on in someone else’s life until he actually asks.

All it takes to build a bridge instead of a barrier is to start off the conversation with “Hello.”

You can read his award-winning essay by visiting www.sandyhookpromise.org/startwithhelloweek.