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What would King say?: Elementary school students honor civil rights leader during annual MLK oratory competitions

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 1/28/2019, 2:39 p.m.
Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by channeling his passion and charisma, 20 Texas elementary school students took part in ...
Jasira King performs her speech, answering the question, “What would Dr. King say to the children of today’s world?” during the 27th Annual Foley Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition, Jan. 18. Michael Ainsworth

Special to The Dallas Examiner

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by channeling his passion and charisma, 20 Texas elementary school students took part in the final rounds of the Annual Foley Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions in Dallas and Houston, Jan. 19. Each student was asked to answer the question, “What would Dr. King say to the children of today’s world?”

Roughly 300 fourth- and fifth-grade students from 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 advanced to the finals.

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, a fourth-grade student from William Brown Miller Elementary School, 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.”

She relayed several pieces of advice that she believed 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.”

Her 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, a fifth-grader from Lockhart Elementary School, 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.”

Her speech took the audience on a historical journey of injustices turned into American successes by bringing people together.

“America is great,” she concluded. “… 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 Chrisette Wigfall, fourth-grader at Askew Elementary School, placed third.

“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.”