Audiences were moved today at the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition, held in Dallas and Houston, as 20 fourth- and fifth-grade elementary school students shared inspiring words, proclaiming how they will emulate the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as they work to motivate change for a better life. Winners included Elijah English of Dallas, a fifth grader at Jerry R. Junkins Elementary School, and Morgan Hunter of Houston, a fifth grade student at Dodson Elementary School.
The 20 finalists were selected from nearly 400 fourth- and fifth-grade students, representing 39 schools in Dallas and Houston. Students first competed at in-school contests for the right to represent their schools at the semifinal competition held in each city. At the semifinals, eight students were selected in Dallas and 12 in Houston to advance to today's final competition. The events were held at historic venues in both cities - the Majestic Theatre in Dallas and the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Christ in Houston.
Students were judged by a panel of local community and business leaders on their delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation and memorization. The student's original speeches, not exceeding five minutes, addressed the question - "How will you carry forward the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in your personal and professional life?" With incredible poise and confidence, these young orators talked about the many lessons learned from Dr. King and how they could apply those lessons towards building a better future, for themselves and their communities. Leaders in the making, these children value the importance of education, of strong moral character and of being actively involved in change.
"Perhaps the best way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy is to gain an understanding about the realities of his fight. Through diligent research, these students learned about the past injustices and inequities Dr. King sought to right," said Steve Good, Gardere Wynne Sewell managing partner. "Dr. King was no ordinary man, and these are no ordinary children. Their belief in his movement, coupled with their strong ambition, arms them with the strength to help solve tomorrow's problems. We are pleased the oratory competition can provide a foundation for these future leaders, intent on building a brighter tomorrow."
Elijah English, who aims to be the youngest president of the U.S., captured the first place title in Dallas with an engaging speech that focused on making positive choices. "What do I choose?" Elijah, a fifth grader at Jerry R. Junkins Elementary School, asked an audience of more than 900 people. Elijah chooses to finish school with top grades so he can attend the college of his choice, to think before reacting, and to be there for his family through good and bad. With these powerful words, he truly embodied Dr. King's teachings, "It's your attitude, not your aptitude, that will determine your altitude." Elijah was a finalist in last year's competition.
Dawn Ford, a fifth grader at John Neely Bryan Elementary School, placed second. Third place went to Harper Jones, a fourth-grade student at Charles Rice Learning Center.
Ten-year-old Morgan Hunter, an aspiring physician, won first place at the Houston competition after sharing her ambition to become a "change agent", following in the footsteps of the late civil rights leader. Challenging the audience to "…glance past the outward appearance and see [people] just like you and I," the passionate fifth-grade student at Dodson Elementary offered a captivated audience a "prescription", just as "Dr. King gave the world a prescription for injustice, [which] was the legacy of his dream." Morgan's prescription included a "daily dose of hope to ease heartaches…a tablespoon full of faith…and a drop of compassion as needed to help cure community."
Raiya Goodman, a fifth grader at Cornelius Elementary School, took home second place. No stranger to the competition, Raiya earned third place at last year's event. Placing third in the competition was Joshua Jacobs, a fourth-grader at Garden Villas Elementary School.
"These young children are society's future leaders, intent on making a difference in their communities," explained Claude Treece, Houston event chair and Gardere operating partner. "Even after more than a decade of experiencing this event, the remarkable motivation, dedication and talent seen in students at all levels of the competition continue to amaze me."
The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition is presented, hosted and sponsored by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP and co-presented by Dallas ISD in Dallas. Gardere introduced the competition in 1993 in Dallas to celebrate the cultural diversity of the community, while also recognizing and encouraging the writing and presentation skills of elementary school students. The event's success led to the establishment in 1997 of the competition in Houston. The oratory competition, which is held each January in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, encourages the community to remember and pay tribute to the late civil rights leader's legacy. All finalists receive savings bonds and other prizes.