Today, 20 Texas elementary school students honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by channeling his passion and charisma during the final rounds of the Annual Foley Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions in Dallas and Houston. For the competitions, the students answered the question, “What would Dr. King say to the children of today’s world?”
Winners included Jasira King, a fourth-grade student from William Brown Miller Elementary School in Dallas, and Nyla Johnson, a fifth-grader from Lockhart Elementary School in Houston.
A total of roughly 300 fourth- and fifth-grade students representing 40 schools from the Dallas and Houston Independent School Districts competed in the in-school qualifying rounds last fall. 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. 18.
At all three levels of the competition, students were evaluated on the basis of delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation and memorization. During the finals, panels of locally renowned community and business leaders judged the students on their performances.
“Each year, the students amaze us with their oratory skills and knowledge of Dr. King’s legacy and message. Today was no exception,” says Michael Newman, managing partner of Foley Gardere’s Dallas office. “The content of the students’ speeches was inspiring and insightful, and they truly shined onstage. Foley Gardere is delighted to host this unique event each year and to provide our community with a first look at some of our future leaders.”
Dallas’s first-place winner, Jasira King, framed up her speech by metaphorically relating life to a relay marathon, suggesting that each generation should “run their own course the best way they can” to reach the “finish line of justice and equality.”
Jasira relayed several pieces of advice that she believed Dr. King would say to her generation – the children of today’s world. “Use your voice and eventually, your vote … Be quick to understand, and slow to anger. Be quick to listen, and slow to walk away. Be quick to comfort and slow to criticize.” She closed her speech by encouraging all generations never to stop moving forward in the pursuit of peace. “If your feet are aching, get on your hands and knees and crawl.”
Jasira’s three older siblings – Chinelo, Etana and Asad – have all placed in the competition previously.
Tory Robertson Jr., a fifth-grader at Clara Oliver Elementary School, earned second place in the Dallas competition, and Tynia Matts, a fifth-grader at John Neely Bryan Elementary School, was awarded third place.
Houston’s first-place winner, Nyla Johnson, started her speech by reminding the audience of the inalienable rights from the Declaration of Independence, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” She then questioned whether current political actions revoke these rights. The fifth-grader continued that if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were here today he would say, “Although we have not fulfilled the dream, we must not lose hope.”
After taking the audience on a historical journey of injustices turned into American successes by bringing people together, she concluded that “America is great,” and “will be greater because we will continue to pursue life, liberty and happiness.”
Asia Jefferson, a fifth-grade student from Blackshear Elementary School, placed second in the Houston competition, while fourth-grader, Chrisette Wigfall, of Askew Elementary School took home third place.
“The passion and skill shown by these students today is proof that Dr. King's legacy continues to live on and shape the dreams of today's youth," said Claude Treece, chief administrative partner of Foley Gardere and longtime event chair of the Houston competition. "These children are society's future leaders and are intent on making a difference in their communities. Our firm is honored to play a role in providing a platform for them to express their dreams and aspirations for building a brighter tomorrow.”
Established in Dallas in 1993 by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP – which on April 1, 2018, combined with Foley & Lardner LLP – the Annual Foley Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition is held in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day to encourage people to remember and pay tribute to the late civil rights leader’s legacy. Foley 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.