By Cindy Hsu

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Local teenagers are standing up to hate through artwork.

High school students throughout the city took part in an art competition in response to the rise in hate crimes.

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CBS2’s Cindy Hsu spoke to the winner, 16-year-old Nicholai Martinez-Vergara.

Nicholai is a student at Gramercy Arts High School. His winning piece is called “Ripping Through.”

“The message behind the piece is ripping through hate,” he explained.

“Ripping Through,” by 16-year-old Nicholai Martinez-Vergara (Photo provided)

Nicholai says hate must be fought together, showing the best of us. His emotions emerged from the canvas, his hands reaching out, representing all of us and our strength. The broken chains show the pain many have endured.

“I’m a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I get, like, stares and people move away from me in the train,” Nicholai said. “It really encouraged me to create this piece, you know, and, you know, enough is enough.”

More than 60 students from dozens of city high schools entered the competition with the theme “Art Will Defeat Hate.”

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The contest was organized by student interns with OCA New York, a nonprofit civil rights organization.

Averi Suk is a Columbia University student who oversaw the project, where the teens learn about hate crimes, LGBTQ+ history and other issues.

“They learn to sort of empower themselves by also planning this art contest, so they decide the rules, the themes, the slogan, and they come up with everything,” Suk said.

The submissions showed the pain teens have been feeling.

“A lot of them have been expressing such, like, really sad sentiments, but they’re still hopeful things can change,” Suk said.

While Nicholai poured his heart into his work, he was still blown away when he won first prize and $500.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to cry, to laugh. I was just so in shock and I still am,” he said.

He says he’ll continue to create art with this message.

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“Be strong and be different. Be your own self,” he said.

Cindy Hsu