Elementary School Students to Recite Original Speeches at The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition

Competition pays tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Fourth- and fifth-grade students attending Dallas ISD and Houston ISD elementary schools will showcase months of preparation and hard work as they recite their original speeches at The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition. The competition will be held on Friday, Jan. 14 at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas and at the historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Christ in Houston.

Presented in the spirit of learning and celebration, The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory 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 competition also introduces students to the legal profession at a young age, giving them a future career option for which to strive as they interact first-hand with attorneys.

The speeches, not to exceed five minutes, will address the topic: "How will you carry forward the legacy of Dr. King in your personal and professional life?" Students are judged on their delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation and memorization.

The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition is presented, hosted and sponsored by Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. In Dallas, it is co-presented by Dallas ISD. The Firm established the annual competition in Dallas in 1993 and the event's success led to the establishment in 1997 of the competition in Houston.

"It's always amazing to witness such immense talent from elementary school students," said Steve Good, Gardere managing partner. "I see an ambitious group of young people who will assuredly make our society stronger and provide solid leadership for this country in the future. The passion and skill shown by these young orators is proof that Dr. King's legacy lives on and impacts the dreams of this generation and so many more to come."

In-school rounds were held at participating Dallas ISD and Houston ISD schools between Oct. 18 and Dec. 1, where students competed to represent their schools at the semifinal competition, held on Dec. 7 at the Dallas ISD Administration Building and to be held Jan. 7 at Thompson Elementary School in Houston. At the semifinals, finalists are selected to advance to the final competition, eight in Dallas and 12 in Houston.

The 2011 competition includes 15 Dallas ISD elementary schools: Amelia Earhart Learning Center, Charles Rice Learning Center, Clara Oliver Elementary, H.S. Thompson Learning Center, J.P. Starks Elementary, Jerry R. Junkins Elementary, John Neely Bryan Elementary, Lipscomb Elementary, Louise Wolff Kahn Elementary, R.L. Thornton Elementary, S.S. Conner Elementary, T.L. Marsalis Elementary, Thomas Tolbert Elementary, Urban Park Elementary and William L. Cabell Elementary. The semifinal round was added last year in Dallas to accommodate the increased size of the competition, which nearly doubled, expanding from eight to 15 schools.

In Houston, 24 Houston ISD elementary schools are participating: Anderson, Atherton, Bruce, Burrus, Cornelius, Crawford, Crespo, Dodson, Foerster, Garden Villas, Gregg, MacGregor, Mading, Park Place, Pleasantville, Port Houston, Rodriguez, Sanchez, Thompson, Valley West, Wainwright, Whidby, Windsor Village and Woodson.

The first-place winner of The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition will receive a $1,000 savings bond, and the second- and third-place winners and remaining finalists all will receive savings bonds of varying amounts. The competition, an event for the community, is free and open to the public.

Past winners of The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition have offered their inspiring perspectives on promoting and celebrating diversity. Tamia Gaines, a fifth-grader at John Neely Bryant Elementary School in Dallas, captured the first place title last year with an engaging speech, declaring she would "not let [Dr. King's] dreams die," crediting the civil rights leader for giving her the confidence to know she can be anything as long as she has good character. The aspiring attorney challenged others "not to hate but appreciate." Determined and confident, Tamia passionately pledged to the audience: "I can! I must! I will achieve my dreams and my successes… because Dr. King kicked down the door so I can walk through."

Ten-year-old Christian Burgs from Garden Villas Elementary in Houston took top prize last year with his inspiring speech, "teaching" the audience in his "classroom" how to achieve their own dreams by following Dr. King's example. Christian, a fifth-grader who placed second in the 2009 competition, hopes to attend Harvard and become a lawyer, offering these words of advice to others: "I, along with others, will too have to face some hardships, but one thing is certain: The obstacles Dr. King faced made 'our' road achievable. Dr. King's actions have taught me not to just knock on the door of opportunity, but kick it in."

For additional information about The Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition and to view videos of past competitions, visit

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