In honor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 20 elementary school students gathered to express their dreams for today’s world during the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions in Dallas and Houston. Winners included Wesley Stoker, a fourth-grade student from Harry C. Withers Elementary in Dallas, and Tchanori Kone, a fifth-grader from Gregory-Lincoln Elementary in Houston.
Finalists were selected from more than 300 fourth- and fifth-grade students representing nearly 40 schools from the Dallas and Houston Independent School Districts. The competitions began with in-school qualifying rounds in the fall, and one student from each school was selected to advance to the semifinals. From there, eight students from Dallas and 12 from Houston were selected to advance to the final competitions Jan. 12.
Participants presented original three-to-five minute speeches addressing the question, “What is your dream for today’s world?,” which both commemorated Dr. King’s iconic speech and encouraged children to showcase their knowledge of current events. During all three levels of the competition, students were evaluated on delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation, and memorization. At the finals, panels of locally renowned community and business leaders judged the students on their performances.
“I want to commend the students on their knowledge of Dr. King’s impact and the talent they displayed today. They delivered well-crafted, emotional and insightful speeches that impressed the entire audience and judges,” said Gardere Chair Holland N. O’Neil. “Gardere is honored to partner with the Dallas and Houston ISDs each year to provide these bright and articulate students a competitive platform that showcases their exceptional talents.”
Dallas’s first-place winner, Wesley Stoker, delivered a speech he says was inspired by his father, who is the senior minister at First United Methodist Church of Dallas. “Dr. King was a minister’s son, and I am a minister’s son, as well. I can only imagine he went to church a lot,” joked Wesley. His speech incorporated his own dreams, routed in Dr. King’s philosophies. “I wish we would all be friends with our neighbors and see that we have more in common than we think.”
Wesley emphasized each of his hopes by repeating, “I may not look like Dr. King, but I believe like Dr. King.” He ended by encouraging the audience, “Like me, you don’t look like Dr. King. But like me, you have the choice to believe like Dr. King. We can believe in equality, love for our neighbor, world peace among all nations and races, but it takes you and me to work together.”
Skye Turner, a fourth-grader at Charles Rice Learning Center, earned second place in the Dallas competition, and Jeremiah Wilson, a fourth-grader at Thomas L. Marsalis Elementary School, was awarded third place.
Houston’s first-place winner, fifth-grade student Tchanori Kone, titled her speech “Making the Dream Come True,” and shared that her dream for today’s world is to “eliminate poverty.” Tchanori hopes one day that “every human being will have fair and equal access to education and health care.”
The 10-year-old reminded the audience of the Poor People’s March on Washington, led by Dr. King and his efforts to draw government attention to poverty in America. Kone concluded that we should follow in Dr. King’s footsteps and bring government attention to these issues by voting into office “sincere, caring people who are committed to helping their communities.”
Caleb Kiteka, a fifth-grade student from Windsor Village Elementary, placed second in the Houston competition, while former MLK Oratory Competition winner, and now fifth-grader, Nhedrick Jabier of Crespo Elementary took home third place.
“The energy these students exhibited today was remarkable, exciting to watch and very inspiring,” said Gardere CEO Claude Treece. “I’ve been chairing this event in Houston since its inception 22 years ago, and I’m still amazed by the talent, insight, and creativity the participants display each year.”
Established in Dallas in 1993 by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition is hosted 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 encourage students to learn more about Dr. King and to 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.
To watch the winning speeches and to learn more about the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions, click here.