Twenty elementary-school aged students from Dallas and Houston ISD
schools shared their present-day perceptions of the late Dr. Martin
Luther King's teachings during the Annual
Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions held today in Dallas and
Houston. Winners included Kayla
O'Neal of Dallas, a fourth-grade student at J.P Starks Math, Science
and Technology Vanguard and Amari
Venzor of Houston, a fifth-grade student from Cornelius Elementary.
Fourth-grade student Kayla O'Neal captured the top spot at the 22nd Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition in Dallas. Kayla presented an engaging and powerful speech to the audience, offering a solution to combat the many hardships her generation faces. (Photo: Business Wire)
Finalists were selected from more than 380 fourth and fifth-grade
students, representing 43 schools from Dallas and Houston ISD.
Participants first competed for the opportunity to represent their
school in school-wide rounds in October and November. At the next level
of the competition, the semi-finals, eight students were selected in
Dallas and 12 in Houston to advance to the final competitions in each
city. Both communities gathered at historic venues - the Majestic
Theatre in Downtown Dallas and the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in
Houston -to pay tribute to the iconic civil rights and watch students
vie for the top spot. The competition, now celebrating its 22nd
year in Dallas and 18th year in Houston, is presented, hosted
and sponsored by Gardere
Wynne Sewell LLP.
Participants present original three-five minute speeches addressing a
particular question that helps them learn and understand the impact of
the great civilrights leader. This year's question: "If Dr. King
were speaking at a March on Washington today, what would he say?"
was met with hope and determination by each participating student and
also paid tribute to the recent 50th anniversary of Dr.
King's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. At all three levels of the
competition, students are judged on delivery, stage presence and
decorum, content interpretation, and memorization. At the final
competition, students were evaluated by panels of local well-known
community and business leaders.
"The legacy of Dr. King is such an important one to our nation," said
Gardere Chair Holland
N. O'Neil. "We sometimes forget that his teachings speak to children
as well and that change can start with them. Seeing that Dr. King's
message of equality is alive in the hearts of fourth-and-fifth grade
students gives Dr. King's iconic words new relevancy and offers us all a
sense of hope for the future. Our Firm is honored to be a part of
something that brings such an important message of positivity to the
Fourth-grade student Kayla
O'Neal captured the top spot in Dallas with her engaging and
powerful speech, taking the audience through her perspective on some of
society's biggest challenges young people face today. "Drugs are nothing
but another form of slavery," she said, when expressing the No. 1
problem in communities. She also rejoiced in the progress the country
has made, noting that "[Dr. King's] heart would swell with pride"
knowing we elected our first African American president in her lifetime.
She offered a captivated audience and her peers a solution to combat
many of the hardships her generation deals with: "Equip your mind and
[you'll] equip your future," the ten-year-old stressed.
Etana King, a fourth-grader at John Neely Bryan Elementary, earned
second place in Dallas, and Jamiya McNeil, a fifth-grade student at
Charles Rice Learning Center took home the third place title.
Venzor, a fifth-grade student at Cornelius Elementary, secured first
place at today's competition in Houston. No stranger to the event, Amari
was also a finalist in the 2013 competition. Delivering a passionate
speech about the importance of educating today's youth, Amari noted that
while America is the "richest nation on earth," there are still some
flaws, including how "some states spend more money to imprison their
citizens than to send them to college." Encouraging the audience to
honor the legacy of their ancestors, the ten-year-old emotionally
informed his fellow students that "education is the key to open the
doors" of opportunities - doors his forebearers weren't even allowed to
In Houston, Byron Roberson, a fifth-grade student from Dodson
Elementary, placed second while fourth-grader Chrystyna Haywood of Bruce
Elementary took third place.
"These children have demonstrated an incredibly mature understanding of
some of today's most poignant issues," said Claude
Treece, Gardere Operating Partner and longtime Event Chair. "It's
always enlightening to hear and see how these issues are viewed through
the eyes of society's most impressionable. Their refreshing
interpretations and perspectives inspire the audience members and
challenge us to develop new solutions to reoccurring issues."
Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition was established in Dallas in
1993 by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP and the event is hosted annually in
conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day to encourage the community
to remember and pay tribute to the late civil rights leader's legacy.
Presented in the spirit of learning and celebration, the competition is
designed to highlight the cultural diversity of the community, while
recognizing and encouraging the writing and presentation skills of
elementary school students. The event's success led to the establishment
in 1997 of the competition in Houston.
ABOUT GARDERE WYNNE SEWELL LLP
Wynne Sewell LLP, an Am Law 200 firm founded in 1909 and one of the
Southwest's largest full-service law firms, has offices in Austin,
Dallas, Houston and Mexico City. Gardere provides legal services to
private and public companies and individuals in areas of corporate,
energy, environmental, financial services, government affairs,
hospitality, intellectual property, international, labor and employment,
litigation, private equity, real estate and tax.
Photos/Multimedia Gallery Available: http://www.businesswire.com/multimedia/home/20140117006033/en/
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