At the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions, held today in Dallas and Houston, 20 elementary-school aged children proclaimed the future they envision for themselves – a future bright with possibilities due to the work and dedication of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Winners included Tamia Gaines of Dallas, a fifth-grade student at John Neely Bryant Elementary School, and Christian Burgs of Houston, a fifth-grade student at Garden Villas Elementary.
The 20 finalists were selected from amongst nearly 400 fellow fourth- and fifth-grade students, representing a total of 39 schools in Dallas and Houston. Students first competed at in-school contests for the right to represent their schools at the semi-final competitions held in each city. At the semi-finals, eight students were selected in Dallas and 12 in Houston to advance to today's final competitions. The events were held at historic venues in both cities – the Majestic Theater in Dallas and the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Christ in Houston.
At all levels, students were judged on their delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation and memorization of their original speeches. This year's topic "What will I be able to achieve in my life because of what Dr. King achieved in his?" – brought forth speeches ripe with hope and ambition, featuring future lawyers, veterinarians and even a few presidential candidates. Students were judged by panels of local well-known community and business leaders.
"History is made up of significant events that shape our future as well as profound leaders that help us fulfill our destinies. The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was instrumental in changing America into the country we know today. And his influence continues to impact the lives of young children, instilling hope and driving their passions," said Steve Good, Gardere Wynne Sewell managing partner. "The determination and ambition that we see in these young orators are a great tribute to Dr. King. It is our hope that the oratory competition provides a platform for their success as future leaders."
Tamia Gaines captured the first place title in Dallas with an engaging speech, declaring she would "not let [Dr. King's] dreams die," crediting the civil rights leader for giving her the confidence to know she can be anything as long as she has good character. The aspiring attorney challenged others not to "hate" but appreciate." Determined and confident, Tamia passionately pledged to the audience: "I can! I must! I will achieve my dreams and my successes because Dr. King kicked down the door so I can walk through."
Courtnie Ivey, a fifth-grade student at R.L Thornton Elementary School placed second. Third place went to Alexis Van Zandt,a fifth-grade student at Clara Oliver Elementary School.
Ten-year-old Christian Burgs from Garden Villas Elementary took top prize in Houston with his inspiring speech, "teaching" the audience in his "classroom" how to achieve their own dreams by following Dr. King's example. Christian, a fifth grader who placed second in the 2009 competition, hopes to attend Harvard and become a lawyer, offering words of advice to others: "I along with others will too have to face some hardships, but one thing is certain that obstacles Dr. King faced made 'our' road achievable. Dr. King's actions have taught me not to just knock on the door of opportunity, but kick it in." His inspirational speech received a standing ovation from the audience.
Second place went to Ronson Hawkins, a fifth grader at MacGregor Elementary, and fourth-grade student Raiya Goodman was awarded third place in the 14th annual competition.
"Through their speeches, these young students take a look back at where we have been, reflect on how far we've come and dream about where they'll be in the future, observed Claude Treece, Houston event chair and Gardere operating partner. "It's a remarkable demonstration of Dr. King's lasting legacy of hope and inspiration."
The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition was established in 1993 by the law firm of Gardere & Wynne to commemorate the life of Dr. King. Presented in the spirit of learning and celebration, the program was designed to highlight the cultural diversity of the community while recognizing and encouraging the writing and presentation skills of elementary school students. In 1995, Dallas' Gardere & Wynne merged with Houston's Sewell & Riggs, creating the law firm now known as Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. The Dallas oratory competition was embraced by the new Houston office, with the attorneys establishing a similar program in Houston in 1997. All finalists receive savings bonds and other prizes.