Speech competition honors legacy of late civil rights leader

DALLAS & HOUSTON & CHICAGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#FoleyMLK–Elementary students from Dallas, Houston, and Chicago schools echoed inspirational words of wisdom, all while paying tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the final rounds of Foley & Lardner LLP’s Annual MLK Jr. Oratory Competitions held today. Fourth and fifth-graders, who advanced from preliminary and semifinal rounds, delivered original speeches tackling the thought-provoking question: “How would Dr. King reflect on the 60 years since his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech?”

The competitions, presented, hosted, and sponsored by Foley, are 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 and to help cultivate the writing and speaking skills of elementary school students. 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. At all levels of the competition, students are judged on their delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation, and memorization.

“Sixty years after Dr. King shared his inspirational ‘I Have a Dream Speech,’ it’s evident his ideals live on through his influence on these young students who demonstrated that they are not only wise beyond their years but also emerging leaders for their peers and communities,” said Daljit Doogal, Foley chairman and CEO. “The firm created this event over 30 years ago, and it has grown across three markets, thousands of students, and an endless amount of talent and inspiration. We are proud to be a part of this amazing experience and allow these students to share their hope for a brighter future.”

Winners included Aiden Body, a fourth-grade student from T.L. Marsalis Elementary in Dallas, Montoiya Murray, a fourth-grader from Blackshear Elementary in Houston, and Trinity Owens, a fourth-grade student from Arthur L. Dixon Elementary in Chicago.

Young Dallas scholar wants everybody to cash their checks from the bank of freedom

On a stage where Dr. King himself once stood, Aiden Body, a fourth-grader from T.L. Marsalis Elementary School, the first-place winner in Dallas, reflected on Dr. King’s popular use of banking as a metaphor to talk about freedom, prosperity, and peace. “While many people have a positive amount in the bank for these things, minorities see a negative amount in their bank account,” said Aiden. “It’s time to go back to the bank and make things right. It’s all up to us to say something when someone is treated wrong.”

Aiden ends his powerful speech by claiming, “Today is our payday! If someone says you’re not good enough, say no, it’s my payday! (…) I think that if he was still alive, he would tell us that it is now the time to speak up and claim our money from the bank of freedom, prosperity, and peace! Today is our payday!”

Jzairus Hopkins-Swanson, a fifth-grader from Thomas Tolbert Elementary School, placed second in the competition, and Kennedy Smith, a fifth-grader from Charles Rice Learning Center, placed third. The competition was held at McFarlin Auditorium at Southern Methodist University, where Dr. King gave a speech to a standing-room-only crowd in 1966.

Houston student encourages peers to take advantage of freedoms Dr. King left for them

The first-place winner in Houston, Montoiya Murray, a fourth-grader from Blackshear Elementary, gave a captivating speech from Dr. King’s perspective, sharing that he would say, “My life was worth sacrificing because I was fighting for you” and that “they may have killed the dreamer, but couldn’t kill the dream.” The nine-year-old inspired the audience by telling them that Dr. King “fought for equal rights so that [they] can have a blank check. So, go back home and check your cash app” because they have been “given back pay that America defaulted on.” She encouraged her peers to “go back to school and get a great education. Instead of using AI, artificial intelligence, to do all of your class work, just BI, Be Intelligent.”

Two fifth-grade students, Solieh McKnight from James H. Law Elementary and Ilsa Lucia Aguilar from Pleasantville, took home second and third place, respectively.

Student from Chicago believes progress has been made, but more change is needed

Fourth-grader Trinity Owens, a student at Arthur L. Dixon Elementary, earned first place during the Chicago competition, which celebrated its fifth consecutive year. Owens gave an inspiring interpretation of what she believes Dr. King would say when reflecting on the 60 years since his iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, reminding the audience that “if we give up, we will never have equality,” and “we will never have peace, but if we keep believing and if we keep trying, then maybe we can make a change.”

Xavier Jackson, a student from Robert A. Black Elementary, earned second place in the Chicago competition, and fifth-grader Joy Lee, a student at CICS Prairie School, was awarded third place.

The annual Foley MLK Jr. Oratory Competition was established in Dallas in 1993, which led to the creation of the Houston competition in 1997 and the Chicago event in 2020. More than 300 students participated in this year’s competitions across all three cities.

To learn more about Foley’s MLK Jr. Oratory Competition, click here.

Photographs Available Upon Request

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