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Talented Students Share Messages of Peace Inspired by Dr. King at Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions

01.16.15

Twenty elementary-school aged students from Dallas and Houston ISD schools echoed inspirational words of wisdom, all while paying tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions held today in Dallas and Houston. Winners included Etana King, a fifth-grade student from John Neely Bryan Elementary in Dallas, and Chase Roberts, a fifth grader from Cornelius Elementary in Houston.

The competition, now celebrating its 23rd year in Dallas and 19th year in Houston, is presented, hosted and sponsored by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. Each year, participants present original three to five minute speeches addressing a particular topic that helps them learn more about and reflect on the impact of the great civil rights leader. This year's question — "If Dr. King were to win the Nobel Peace Prize today, what would he say in his acceptance speech?" — was met with hope and determination by each student, as they paid tribute to Dr. King's memorable speeches.

The finalists were selected from 360 fourth- and fifth-grade students, representing 39 schools from Dallas and Houston ISD. For today's finals, 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 leader and cheer on students as they vie for the top spot. 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 inspiring speeches prepared by these young orators are a testament to their commanding presentation skills and offer compelling insights to their thoughts on Dr. King's words," says Gardere Chair Holland N. O'Neil". By applying his teachings to today, the students bring new life to Dr. King's legacy. Gardere is honored to partner with Dallas and Houston ISDs to provide this unique forum for students to enrich their skills and celebrate equality and diversity in our communities."

Etana King, a fifth-grade student, earned first place in Dallas with her rousing interpretation of Dr. King's teachings. An aspiring neurosurgeon, Etana explained Dr. King's modern Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech would entail words that are "inspiring and profound," and his voice would be the "voice of human consciousness, awakening the brain and signaling the body to GET UP." She used areas of the body as a reference to help the audience understand how to be a part of change in society. “Use legs … to run away from moments of challenge; arms … to embrace our differences; the heart … to circulate the blood of justice, equality and hope; and the brain to infuse thoughts of love … to achieve peaceful victory against the violence of injustice." No stranger to the competition, the ten-year-old placed second in last year’s event and celebrated with her brother Chinelo King, who captured the top spot in the 2013 Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition.

Camilla Meza, a fifth grader at Thomas Tolbert Elementary, earned second place in Dallas, and Hannah Wesley, a fifth-grade student at Charles Rice Learning Center, took home the third place title.

In Houston, Chase Roberts, a fifth-grade student from Cornelius Elementary, not only captivated but also delighted the audience with his winning speech. "Am I my brother's keeper? Yes, I am," proclaimed Chase repeatedly at the opening of his speech, grabbing the audience’s attention immediately. He believed Dr. King would use his acceptance speech as an opportunity to encourage the world. However, before he got into the meat of his presentation, he gave a charming impression of the late Dr. King, admitting "there is no way you could expect to give a Baptist preacher from the south three minutes, an audience and a microphone, and not expect him to preach." Chase went on to deliver a powerful message reminding the crowd to act and not react. "It's such a small word, but it's packed with powerful, positive possibilities. A - C - T. Accept the challenge together. A - C - T. Address concerns together. When faced with an enemy, A - C - T. Approach with compassion and tolerance."

Shakeira Hayes, a fifth-grade student from Pleasantville Elementary, placed second, while fifth grader Isabel Serna of Crespo Elementary finished in third place.

"More than 50 years after he received the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King's ideals live on through his influence on these young students, who will be leaders for their peers and communities," says Gardere Operating Partner and long-time Event Chair Claude R. Treece. "The talent of the students is remarkable, and the inspirational content of their speeches is even more impressive. The Firm is truly honored to be a part of this event year after year."

The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition was established in Dallas in 1993 by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. 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 in Dallas led to the establishment of the competition in Houston in 1997.

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