At the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition, held today in Dallas and Houston, and on Jan. 11 in Austin, Texas, 28 elementary-school aged children painted a picture of their dreams for the future, all while paying tribute to the work and dedication of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Winners included Kofi Forson of Dallas, a fifth grader at William L. Cabell Elementary; Matthias McBride of Houston, a fifth-grade student at Pleasantville Elementary; and Alejandro Urista of Austin, a fourth grader at Campbell Elementary.
These students were selected from nearly 400 fellow fourth- and fifth-grade students, representing a total of 44 schools in Austin, Dallas and Houston. Participants in Houston and Dallas first competed at in-school contests to represent their schools at the semifinal competitions held in each city. At the semifinals, eight students were selected in Dallas and 12 in Houston to advance to today's final competitions. In Austin, fourth- and fifth-grade participants competed at the in-school level for the opportunity to advance to the final competition, where a total of eight students, with multiple representatives from each school, went on to compete. The events were held at historic venues in all cities – Majestic Theatre in Dallas, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Christ in Houston and Huston-Tillotson University's King-Seabrook Chapel in Austin. The annual competition, which is free and open to the public, is presented, hosted and sponsored by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP.
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 – "As a student of Dr. King's life, what message of hope do you think he would have for the world today?" – featured inspirational speeches laden with hope and ambition. Students were judged by panels of local well-known community and business leaders.
"As a leader, Dr. King inspired hope and encouraged others to think about the broader concerns of all humanity," said Steve Good, Gardere Wynne Sewell managing partner. "Today, as I am every year, I was inspired by the remarkable interpretations presented by these talented young students. Echoing the messages of the late Dr. King, they shared with us their visions of hope and promise for a better tomorrow and left us all with some challenges to consider. I am confident this will not be the last we hear of these gifted children."
Kofi Forson captured the first place title in Dallas with an engaging speech, taking the audience through his quest to find the definition of hope. Inspired by Dr. King's vision of the word, Kofi, a fifth grader at William L. Cabell Elementary, ultimately concluded that for him, "Hope is a new beginning." Kofi, who recently turned 12, aspires to one day become the Secretary-General of the United Nations and believes "we can overcome all things if we put our minds to it." He reminded a captivated audience not to allow the many crises in the world to consume our hope.
George Rivera, a fourth grader at Urban Park Elementary, earned second place, and Michael Jones, a fifth-grade student at Louis Wolff Kahn Elementary, brought home the third place title.
Matthias McBride, a fifth-grade student at Pleasantville Elementary, secured first place in Houston with a powerful speech that asked a capacity audience, "What are you doing for others and how can you bring hope to a world that seems to have lost all hope?" Matthias, who also competed in the 2011 competition, believes Dr. King, were he alive today, would have said that "our hope has been misplaced" and is today more focused on "positions and possessions" than in each other. As an agent of change and hope, he concluded, "There comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular; but we must take it because it is right."
In Houston, second place went to Donovan Williams, a fifth grader at Cornelius Elementary, while fourth-grade student Samaya Watson took third place.
"This competition enables these young students to embrace a part of history that had such a profound influence on shaping where America is today. It's truly a tribute to society's most influential messenger of hope," observed Claude Treece, Gardere operating partner. "Listening to the words of these young orators today, I was amazed at their ability to identify the challenges facing society and even more so by the solutions they offered."
On Jan. 11, Austin-area student Alejandro Urista from Campbell Elementary earned first place at the Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition held in partnership with the Austin Area Heritage Council. With hopes to one day become an environmental engineer, 10-year old Alejandro believes Dr. King might be disappointed with society today because his "dream of hope never came true," citing examples such as college entrance and graduation rates associated with minorities. "Is this what we're willing to settle for?" he asked, challenging listeners to make a difference. Other students who placed in the competition included fourth-grade student Desiree Carmona from Campbell Elementary and Jeneya Pickens, a fourth-grader at Blackshear Elementary.
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. The Dallas oratory competition was embraced by the new Houston office, with the attorneys establishing a similar program in Houston in 1997. The event was later launched in Austin in partnership with the Austin Area Heritage Council. All finalists receive savings bonds and other prizes.