Twenty elementary school students from Dallas and Houston ISD schools shared inspiring words, addressing timely issues impacting today’s society, all while paying tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions held today in Dallas and Houston. Winners included Lyriq Turner, a fifth-grade student from Charles Rice Learning Center in Dallas, and Richard Espinosa-Garza, a fifth-grader from Cornelius Elementary in Houston.
Presented, sponsored and hosted by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, the competition, now celebrating its 24th year in Dallas and 20th anniversary in Houston, is designed to highlight the cultural diversity of the community while recognizing and encouraging the writing and presentation skills of elementary school students. Since the event’s inception, participants present original three to five minute speeches addressing a particular topic that helps each student gain a better understanding of the legacy the great civil rights leader left for future generations. This year’s question – “What would Dr. King say in his campaign speech if he were running for president this year?” – prompted these young presenters to challenge the audience and their peers to apply the valuable lessons passed on to them by Dr. King, and to also take action and combat some of the issues plaguing communities today.
The finalists were selected from approximately 335 fourth- and fifth-grade students, representing 39 schools from Dallas and Houston ISD. The events were held in historic venues in both cities – the Majestic Theatre in downtown Dallas and the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Houston – and drew a packed audience in both locations eager to watch the students vie for the top spots in each competition after months of extensive preparation. Participants first competed at in-school rounds and semifinal competitions to earn a spot at the finals. At all three levels of the competition, students were evaluated on delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation and memorization. At the finals, students were judged by panels of local well-known community and business leaders.
“The students delivered timely and well-prepared speeches that not only proudly commemorated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but drew powerful comparisons to current events,” says Gardere Chair Holland N. O’Neil. “Gardere is proud to partner with the Dallas and Houston ISDs to provide these bright and articulate students a platform to showcase their exceptional talents.”
Lyriq Turner, a fifth-grade student from Charles Rice Learning Center, earned first place in Dallas with her inspiring interpretation of what she believes Dr. King would say in his presidential campaign speech. A future politician herself, Lyriq repeatedly urged, “America, it’s time for a new way.” Tackling hot campaign topics, such as immigration, foreign affairs and the economy, Lyriq made claims about what the “new way” would look like. “Through every walk of life, let morality be our guiding light! When we let morality be our guiding light, we will be able to speed up that day when all children – black, white, poor, rich, fatherless, fathered, citizen and immigrant – will be able to join hands and solve humanity’s problems.” No stranger to the competition, the 10-year-old competed last year, but didn’t make it to the finals.
Marco Mares, a fifth-grader at William Brown Miller Elementary, earned second place, and Za’Kiah Bell, a fifth-grader at J.P. Starks Math, Science and Technology Vanguard, was awarded third place.
For the second consecutive year, a student from Cornelius Elementary took home first place in the Houston competition. Fifth-grade student Richard Espinosa-Garza gave a moving speech from Dr. King’s perspective, saying the civil rights leader would implement a “Reunite America Initiative” if he were running for president today. He told the audience and all those who “snapchat, tweet and text” that “you can’t just check-in, you must show up” for this initiative that “encourages communities to seek more culturally diverse solutions to their challenges.” The 11-year-old also shared that “as president, [he would] stand firm like the statue of liberty as a symbol of hope and peace” and promised a captivated audience that he would “work tirelessly with Reunite America partners to seal the gaps of hate with the bonds of brotherhood so that while our soldiers are away fighting for our freedom, our communities are home strengthening our foundations.”
Kyle Mosley, a fifth-grade student from Whidby Elementary, who was also a finalist in the 2015 competition, placed second, while fifth-grader Brandalyn Thompson of Pleasantville Elementary finished in third place.
“These young students captivated us today with their stirring speeches, addressing some of the difficult issues in today’s world. Their fresh perspectives give us hope for the future and demonstrate the continuing impact of Dr. King’s legacy,” says Gardere Operating Partner and long-time Event Chair Claude R. Treece. “The energy, talent, and passion from these students are always inspiring, and the Firm is honored to have a hand in it year after year.”
The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition was established in Dallas in 1993 by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. The event is hosted annually in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day to encourage the community to remember and pay tribute to the late civil rights leader’s legacy. Gardere introduced the event to not only encourage students to learn more about Dr. King, but to also help cultivate the writing and speaking skills of elementary school students. The event's success in Dallas led to the establishment of the competition in Houston in 1997.