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Students celebrate diversity through oratory competition

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 1/27/2014, 9:05 a.m.
Kayla O’Neil delivers her winning speech at The Majestic Theatre. Dallas ISD

Special to The Dallas Examiner

Kayla O’Neal, a fourth-grader at J.P. Starks Math, Science and Technology Vanguard Elementary School, took first place in the 22nd Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition, a contest that celebrates cultural diversity in celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and encourages young students to exercise their writing and oratory skills.

Established in 1993, the competition is sponsored by the law firm Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP for fourth and fifth graders. Four years later, it expanded to students in Houston.

Twenty participating schools hosted an in-school competition with up to 20 fourth and fifth graders. The first place winners went on to compete in the semi-finals on Dec. 10 at Dallas ISD Headquarters Auditorium. Eight finalists were chosen to advance to the finals, held Jan. 17 at The Majestic Theatre.

Clarice Tinsley, anchor for KDFW FOX 4 news, served as master of ceremonies. The David W. Carter High School choir performed while judges deliberated.

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of King’s I Have A Dream speech, the finalists delivered speeches on the topic: “If Dr. King were speaking at a March on Washington today, what would he say?”

O’Neil’s winning speech outlined her ideas on how King would applaud the efforts and successes of African Americans today, acknowledge the change that needs to happen within communities and inspire the youth of today to take charge of their futures.

“Dr. King would remind us of the importance of education and how our ancestors fought, bled and died for us to have the right to attend any college, anywhere,” she said during the event. “I can hear him in his soothe calming voice saying, ‘The key to the future is in education.’”

Etana King, a fourth-grader at John Neely Bryan Elementary School, took second place. Jamiya McNeil, a fifth-grader at Charles Rice Learning Center, took third.

The other finalists were: Ahmad Crawford, a fifth-grader at Thomas L. Marsalis Elementary; Aisha Young, a fourth-grader at William Brown Miller Elementary School; Sedailiah Rochelle, a fifth-grader at Thomas Tolbert Elementary School; Chaelon Simpson, a fourth-grader at Ronald E. McNair Elementary School; and Luke Nayfa, a fifth-grader at Harry C. Withers Elementary School.