By MAURICE RAY
Editor's note: It was in the month of June 1863 that most people in the United States first heard of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Earlier this month, on June 17, state Sen. Diane Savino celebrated the document's historic significance with a first-time event called Juneteenth. Maurice Ray of Stapleton submitted a winning essay about what emancipation means to him. He was honored at the celebration, which was held in the new Carter Community Center in Stapleton. The essay appears below.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - STAPLETON - Emancipation for me and my community is peace. It is a knowing that I can pray, learn and do anything that my heart dreams of doing. Today I am a strong, black man. Now I am ready to face anything that comes my way but it wasn't always like that. 
I spent most of my life in Cleveland, Ohio. My family fled from our abusive, drug-addicted father to New York City in November of 2008 and never looked back. In my past, I felt like my mother, sisters and I were not free because we endured physical, mental and emotional abuse by my father. 
For years, my father stole everything from us – except our spirits. After my parents split up, my mother obtained an order of protection which my father violated by breaking into our apartment and terrorizing us. My father threatened to kill me because I stood up to him. Very shortly after that incident, we fled to NYC to escape from the abuse.
Being my family had no resources, we wound up in the New York City shelter system and were soon relocated to Section-8 housing on Staten Island. In November, 2008, I began at the Hungerford School (in Clifton) and the rest is history.
At Hungerford, I have been recognized for my talents. I have received many awards for writing and citizenship. At school, I received a lot of help. I wrote poems and essays in praise of mothers, friendship, forgiveness, joy and the faith in God that has carried me through. For me, going to a shelter was a test of faith. I love Jesus too much to give up.
Through all of my trials and tribulations, my faith has carried me. When I get sad, I just read the Bible. I am thankful. Some people don't have a life. I thank Jesus for my mother and appreciate what He has done for me. I am free. Jesus is always with me, and I forgive my father even though I can't have him in my life.
I pray for everyone every night. I want to give back to people. I want to write a book about my life to help people and the community. I want to help the homeless by helping to feed them and help them have faith in God. I want them to know that emancipation from fear, homelessness, domestic violence and poverty is theirs. I lived through it and so can they.
Last winter, we lost our Section-8 housing and wound up back in a shelter in Brooklyn. The good news is that my family will be moving into a new apartment back on Staten Island this week.
I am graduating on Friday, June 10, 2011 from The Hungerford School. My mother and sisters are OK. I have plans for continuing my education. I intend to keep writing and living the joy of my future. No one or thing can take that away from me.
That is what emancipation means to me.