Elementary school students across Chicago Public Schools and from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boys & Girls Club in Chicago celebrated Black History Month and honored Dr. King during the final round of Foley & Lardner LLP’s Annual MLK Jr. Oratory Competition in Chicago on February 11. The fourth- and fifth-grade students delivered original speeches addressing the topic: “How would Dr. King assess our progress in achieving his vision for America?”
Presented, hosted, and sponsored by Foley, the competition was held virtually to protect the health and well-being of students and judges.
Payton Sawyer from Lenart Elementary, the first-place winner, believes Dr. King would be proud of the progress made towards non-violence and equal rights but saddened by the setbacks along the way.
The fifth-grader pointed out that while President Barack Obama was judged on the content of his character and not his skin color, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed because he “looked suspicious,” sparking the Black Lives Matter movement. Sawyer went on to reference a 2019 statistic that only 42.1% of African-Americans owned homes, the lowest rate of any racial group in the country. She noted, “This percentage has not really changed from the 1960s when only 38.4% of African-Americans owned homes. There is still a lot of work to be done to reach Dr. King’s goal for economic justice.” She continued, “I believe he would remind us we all must keep working together to make America a peaceful and non-violent place, where everybody is treated equally, and no one is stereotyped based on the color of their skin.”
Fifth-grader Anistaja Walters from Wendell Smith Elementary placed second, and Michael Flowers, a fifth-grader from Robert A. Black Magnet School, placed third.
Students from six Chicago Public Schools participated, joined for the first time in the competition’s history by children from the Boys and Girls Club of America. After virtual preliminary rounds, during which students submitted their speeches online to a panel of Foley judges, 10 students were selected to advance to the final round on February 11. At all levels of the competition, students are evaluated on delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation, and memorization. The final rounds were judged by a panel of prominent community and local business leaders.
“It’s such a pleasure working with the Chicago Public Schools and witnessing the immense talent and bravery these young students possess,” said Frank Pasquesi, managing partner of Foley’s Chicago office. “Over the past three years, I’ve seen many students grace this stage with an elegance and poise similar to that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe that by sharing their unique stories and incorporating Dr. King’s teachings on peace, love and equality, the students in this competition are providing hope that one day his dream will become a reality.”
The oratory competition is held each year 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 established the event to encourage students to learn more about Dr. King and to help cultivate the writing and speaking skills of elementary school students. Traditionally held the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Chicago competition was postponed this year.
The first competition was created in Dallas in 1993. The event’s success led to the establishment of the Houston competition in 1997 and the Chicago competition in 2020.
To learn more about Foley’s MLK Jr. Oratory Competition, click here. View the winning speech below.
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