Twenty elementary-school children echoed the messages of the late Dr. King, thanking him for the legacy he paved for their generation, at the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition held today in Dallas and Houston. Winners included Chinelo King of Dallas, a fourth-grade student at John Neely Bryan Elementary in Dallas and Curtis Babers of Houston, a fourth-grader at Lockhart Elementary.
Student finalists were selected from nearly 450 fourth- and fifth-grade students, representing a total of 44 schools in Dallas and Houston. Participants 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. The events were held in historic venues in each city – the Majestic Theatre in Dallas and Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Houston. The annual speech competition, now in its 21st year in Dallas and 17th year in Houston, is presented, hosted and sponsored by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP.
Students were judged by a panel of civic and business leaders on their delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation, and memorization of their original speeches. The student's original speeches, not exceeding five minutes, addressed the topic: "If you could talk directly to Dr. King about your dream for our future, what would you tell him?" These young orators challenged the audience and their fellow students to apply the lessons left by the late civil rights leader, sharing personal experiences that have shaped them to be leaders in their schools and communities.
"Dr. King left such a lasting impression on our nation, and it's undoubtedly evident his legacy has influenced the students who participated in our annual speech competition," said Steve Good, Gardere managing partner. "Today, I was moved by the insight and hopes presented by these talented young orators. Listening to their speeches and personal reflections of the late civil rights leader and the challenges we face today reminds us that we are all shaped by strong leaders, and these students are well on their way to be influential leaders in our community like Dr. King."
Nine-year-old Chinelo King, an aspiring architectural engineer, won first place in the Dallas competition, sharing the "tools" his family, school and community have passed along to equip him to be a leader. Challenging the audience to use their "tool belts" to work together to build a better world, Chinelo instructed his fellow students to "use [their] hammers to pound out bullying... use [their] tape measures to measure people by their character and what they contribute to this world [versus] their clothes, cars or neighborhood... and [their] screwdrivers to tighten up morals and values."
Aolani Hill, a fifth-grade student at Wilmer-Hutchins Elementary, earned second place, and Leah Wizeman, a fourth-grader at Harry C. Withers Elementary, finished in third place.
Curtis Babers, a fourth-grade student at Lockhart Elementary, captured first place in Houston with a poignant speech addressing the importance of obtaining an education. Noting that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself earned a doctorate degree and used his knowledge to change a nation, Curtis hoped for a future where "there would be less young men choosing a life of crime and more young men choosing a major in college." Having witnessed scenes of hopelessness and sadness in his own community, this 10-year-old explained his passion for seeing others succeed, saying, "I can never reach my full potential because I need my fellow neighbors."
In Houston, second place went to Malcolm Taylor, a fifth-grader at Thompson Elementary, while Arriana Farrington of Pleasantville Elementary took third place.
"The drive and talent these young children have is truly remarkable," said Claude Treece, Gardere operating partner and event chair. "Hearing the personal interpretations of issues we face in our society from the perspective of fourth- and fifth-grade students is not only impressive, but enlightening, as they offer solutions that give us hope for a brighter tomorrow. I can honestly say that the audience members left today challenged and inspired by this younger generation."
The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition was established in 1993 to honor 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. All finalists receive monetary gifts of varying amounts and other prizes. Each participating school will receive a book on civil rights for their libraries.