Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition Showcases Young Orators Addressing How Dr. King's Legacy Will Prevail

21 December 2011 News

AUSTIN/DALLAS/HOUSTON - Fourth- and fifth-grade students will showcase months of preparation and hard work as they recite their original speeches at the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition. The competitions will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 11 at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas; Friday, Jan. 13 at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas; and Friday, Jan. 13 at the historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Christ in Houston.

Presented in the spirit of learning and celebration, the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition is designed to highlight the cultural diversity of the community while recognizing and encouraging the writing and presentation skills of elementary school students. The competition also exposes students to the legal profession at a young age, giving them a future career option for which to strive as they interact first-hand with attorneys.

The speeches, not to exceed five minutes, will address the topic: "As a student of Dr. King's life, what message of hope do you think he would have for the world today?" Students are judged on their delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation, and memorization.

The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition is presented, hosted and sponsored by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. The Firm launched the annual competition in Dallas in 1993, and the event's success led to the establishment in 1997 of the competition in Houston. The competition was later launched in Austin through the Austin Area Heritage Council, with support provided by Gardere.

"Year after year, students offer insightful interpretations on the state of current events and their high hopes for the world in which they live today, just as Dr. King successfully demonstrated years ago," said Claude Treece, Gardere operating partner and event chair, who has been actively involved with the competition since its inaugural year. "Not only does the oratory competition allow elementary students the opportunity to gain confidence and skills that will prove beneficial as they mature into adulthood, but it also gives them a voice to reflect on the dreams of the late civil rights leader in a way that is relatable to their peers and the community at large."

In-school rounds were held at participating Dallas ISD and Houston ISD schools between Oct. 3 - 28, where students competed to represent their schools at the semifinal competition, held on Dec. 6 at the Dallas ISD Administration Building and to be held Jan. 6 at Thompson Elementary School in Houston. At the semifinals, finalists are selected to advance to the final competition, eight in Dallas and 12 in Houston.

The 2012 competition includes 19 Dallas ISD elementary schools: Amelia Earhart Learning Center, Charles Rice Learning Center, Clara Oliver, Edna Rowe, Frederick Douglass, H. Meadows, H.S. Thompson Learning Center, H.C. Withers, J.P. Starks, John Neely Bryan, Louise Wolff Kahn, O. Hernandez, R.L. Thornton, Ronald E. McNair, T.L. Marsalis, Thomas Tolbert, Urban Park, William L. Cabell and William Lipscomb.

Students from the following 24 Houston ISD elementary schools are participating in the 2012 competition: Anderson, Atherton, Bruce, Burrus, Cornelius, Crawford, Crespo, Dodson, Garden Villas, Golfcrest, Gregg, Lockhart, MacGregor, Park Place, Pleasantville, Port Houston, Rodriguez, Sutton, Thompson, Valley West, Wainwright, Whidby, Windsor Village and Woodson.

The first-place winner of the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition will receive a $1,000 savings bond, and the second- and third-place winners and remaining finalists all will receive savings bonds of varying amounts. The competition, an event for the community, is free and open to the public.

Past winners of the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition have left a lasting impression on the community with their interpretations of Dr. King's legacy. Elijah English, a fifth grader from Jerry R. Junkins Elementary School, captured the first place title in the 2011 Dallas competition with a powerful message that embodied Dr. King's teachings: "It's your attitude, not your aptitude that will determine your altitude." Elijah was also a finalist in the 2010 competition. In 2010, Tamia Gaines, a fifth-grade student from John Neely Bryan Elementary, won first place with a rousing speech, challenging others to "not hate but appreciate."

Ten-year-old Morgan Hunter from Dodson Elementary, an aspiring physician, earned first place last year in the Houston competition with her inspirational speech, sharing her ambition to become a "change agent" following in the footsteps of the late civil rights leader. Morgan offered the captivated audience a "prescription" just as "Dr. King gave the world a prescription for injustice." Fifth-grade student Christian Burgs earned top prize in 2010 with his engaging speech, "teaching" the audience in his "classroom" how to achieve their own dreams by following Dr. King's example.

Previous competitor Dalton Sherman, a fifth-grade Dallas ISD student, showcased Dr. King's dream at the 2008 competition and went on to share his words of hope for the future to millions of Americans when he appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

For additional information about the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition and to view videos of past competitions, visit