Oratory Competition Honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as Students Share a Vision for America in 2020

Elementary school students answer, "What would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision be for America in 2020?" in the annual Foley & Lardner MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions

Elementary school students honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today during the final rounds of the Foley & Lardner MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions in Dallas, Houston and Chicago. The students channeled the late civil rights leader’s passion and charisma in original speeches about what they think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision would be for America in 2020.

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Colin Harris, a fifth-grade student from J.P. Starks Math, Science and Technology Vanguard in Dallas, won first place in the 28th Annual Foley & Lardner MLK Jr. Oratory Competition, held Jan. 17, 2020 at W.H. Adamson High School. Colin relayed Dr. King’s vision "to love one another." (Photo Credit: Rex Curry)

The 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 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.

The 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 this year.

Winners of each of the competitions are Colin Harris, fifth-grader from J.P. Starks Math, Science and Technology Vanguard in Dallas, Brandon Curbow, fourth-grader from Crespo Elementary in Houston, and Mia Roberts, fourth-grader from Arthur Dixon Elementary in Chicago.

Dallas student reminds us to "have compassion for each other, accept each other and coexist with each other in love."

Dallas’s first-place winner, Colin Harris, began his speech suggesting that Dr. King’s Vision for America in 2020 would be for us to "strive to truly become the greatest nation." He went on to suggest that in order to meet that vision, "we would have to listen to one another, have compassion for each other, accept each other and coexist with each other in love."

Colin said he believes the best way to honor Dr. King’s legacy today is "to commit ourselves to his vision of nonviolence. Violence is not the solution to anything. Violence only breeds more violence."

He closed his speech by encouraging the audience to never to stop moving forward until everyone is free, "free from hatred, free from violence, free from injustice…free from inequality."

"The competition in Dallas this year was incredible. The students’ enthusiasm and passion for Dr. King’s teachings were contagious," said Michael Newman, Foley’s Dallas Office Managing Partner. "It is truly rewarding to hear these young orators relay Dr. King’s message of respect and equality.

Dominic Patermo, a fourth-grade student from Harry C. Withers Elementary, placed second in the Dallas competition, while fifth-grader Jasira King of William Brown Miller Elementary took home third place.

Houston fourth-grader shares vision to "make America safe again"

Houston’s first-place winner, Brandon Curbow, started his speech by taking the audience through the "longest three minutes" of his life, which was an active shooter drill at his school. He then questioned if this is how Dr. King would want to see the children of today – "taught to huddle in the corner in order to protect themselves."

After sharing the range of emotions he felt that day, from scared to anxious, Brandon stated, "we are further from Dr. King’s dream than ever." If Dr. King were alive today, "he would have a plan to make America SAFE again!"

"This event is designed to honor Dr. King and recognize his continued importance in our country today," said Claude Treece, Foley’s Chief Administrative Partner and longtime event chair of the Houston competition. "It’s obvious that these students worked hard to study Dr. King and incorporate his ideals and his passion into their speeches."

Ayomide Lawrence, a fourth-grade student from Blackshear Elementary, placed second in the Houston competition, while fifth-grader Jenny Teague of Sutton Elementary took home third place.

Chicago fourth-grader dares crowd to "keep Dr. King’s vision alive with new eyes in 2020"

Chicago’s first-place winner Mia Roberts broke down Dr. King’s vision for 2020 with 10 simple tips for younger generations. "First, we need to start with self-love. If you don’t love yourself, how could you possibly love others?" In her list of tips, she reminded the audience to listen, keep an open mind, stay positive and show interest in others.

Mia ended her speech by challenging the crowd. "One person stood and changed the whole world. Dr. King stood for righteousness and equality so that all mankind would have a better life. Will you be the person who will love your neighbor as you love yourself?"

"We are thrilled to bring this competition to Chicago, a city that played a key role in the civil rights movement," said Frank Pasquesi, the Chicago Office Managing Partner of Foley & Lardner. "These young students today showed great passion, knowledge and hope for the future. In a room where Dr. King himself once made history during his movement, it was empowering to see our next generation of leaders make some of their own history to celebrate Dr. King. The students were incredibly impressive and inspired us all."

Malcom Rush, a fifth-grade student from Arthur Dixon Elementary, placed second in the Chicago competition, while fifth-grader Brianna Dawson of Robert Alfred Black Magnet Elementary took home third place.

Each of the competitions began with in-school qualifying rounds, followed by semifinals in Dallas and Houston, and the final round of competition in each city on Jan. 17. At all levels of the competition, students were evaluated based on 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.

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