Fourth and fifth grade finalist in the 31st annual MLK Jr. Oratory Competition. – Photo courtesy of Dallas ISD

Special to The Dallas Examiner


“Dr King’s dream and life’s work was to end segregation and to ensure our rights as citizens of the United States of America. Therefore, everything we do as individuals makes a difference,” stated Zihair Douglas, a fifth-grade student at Thomas L. Marsalis STEAM Academy, as part of his speech during the 31st annual MLK Jr. Oratory Competition.

He went on to say that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have a problem with Supreme Court decisions that took away the rights and choices of individuals in the country and political leaders who have “misused their platforms to bully and discriminate against” certain individuals.

He didn’t acknowledge the positive strides towards justice and equality.

“I know that Dr King would be proud of how we stand up, advocate and support for what we think is right and fair, considering the social justice, educational, political and entrepreneurial leaders that have risen during these challenging times.”

He then recounted one of King’s powerful quotes.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” he recited.

He spoke briefly about the new generation of leadership seeking to make a positive change across the world.

“I charge each of you and myself to fulfill Dr. King’s Legacy and create a better world for ourselves and our future generations, as we all have the power, in our own spheres of influence, to make a difference, to fulfill the hopes, prayers and dreams of Dr. King and all our ancestors.” With these words, Zihair ended the speech that would ultimately have him win the competition.

He was also a finalist in last year’s competition.

Sasha Greene, a Talented And Gifted teacher at Marsalis STEAM Academy and Zihair’s sponsor for the competition, highlighted his dedication to getting his speech right.

“Over the past three months, we practiced maybe two or three times a day. He’s put a lot of work into memorizing his speech and saying it very well,” she revealed.

For this year’s competition, eight Dallas ISD students delivered original speeches addressing the topic, “What would Dr. King say to us today about hope for tomorrow?”

Other finalists were Mohamad Mohamad, fifth grade student at Elisha M. Pease Elementary, who placed second; Bria Hider, fifth grade student at J.P. Starks Math, Science and Technology Vanguard, who placed third; Ella Atkins, fifth grade student at Walnut Hill Leadership Academy; Daniella Mitchell, fifth grade student at Thomas Tolbert Elementary School; Zaleeia Brown, fifth grade student at Clara Oliver Elementary School; Kennedy Smith, fourth grade student at Charles Rice Learning Center; and Adrian Rojas, fifth grade student at Arturo Salazar Elementary School.

The finalists conveyed messages of hope and despair. Many students revealed areas they felt America needed to improve, from individuals to national leaders, before moving on to answer the question of the competition.

“If Dr. King was here today, I believe he would say, ‘Why, why are you still hurting each other?’ That is what is happening. People are hurting people for no reason. We are not behaving like a country where everyone is free and justice is for all. We are behaving just the opposite. There is no unity,” Bria expressed in her speech.

“In school, we are taught about having good character and displaying good citizenship. But the adults are not paying attention. All around me, I see random acts of violence, racial tension and hateful messages on display.”

Mohamad focused on the subject matter: hope.

“Hope is my bright light that guides me through a darkness of time. Today, we’re faced with many challenges, but hope is what keeps me steadfast and moving forward. I have hope. Do you have hope?” Mohamad said during his speech.

Mollie Finch Belt is the Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of The Dallas Examiner. She attended elementary school in Tuskegee, Ala.; Cambridge, Mass.; and Dallas, Texas. In 1961, she graduated from...

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