Skip to main content
By David Hendricks : January 11, 2014

SAN ANTONIO — Martin Luther King Jr. would not have risen to become a civil rights icon without his stirring oratorical skills.

With that premise, organizers affiliated with the 12-day DreamWeek that observes King’s birthday holiday launched the first-ever oratorical contest for middle and high school students, held Saturday morning at Second Baptist Church.

Six students competed, and four winners split $900 in cash prizes during the event, organized by a committee headed by Karl Nicolas and sponsored by the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and the National Pan-Hellenic Council.

Each student delivered, before a panel of judges, a four- to six-minute speech addressing the topic: “Why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed education excellence affects one’s future freedoms.”

Contest rules prohibited the students from identifying themselves or their schools during their speeches. Also prohibited were photography and applause. In place of applause, the audience of more than 50 people, mainly participants’ family and friends, responded with silent fist pumps.

“Education should liberate and free our minds,” one student said. “Wisdom is the key,” she added. “Wisdom is the ability to reason.”

Several students addressed high school dropout rates in San Antonio and elsewhere and the results in society.

“Even today, African-Americans are incarcerated at six times the rates of whites,” one student said. He then cited the 2012 case of the slaying of Florida youth Trayvon Martin, whose acquitted accused shooter’s “questionable character is headlines in the news. … Education is a civil right. … This fight for freedom is not over.”

Several speakers also paid tribute to King and his legacy. They cited the facts that King had completed high school at age 15 and received a doctorate degree from Boston University.

One student called King’s education a blueprint for today’s students.

“Because of what (King) did, I can stand before you, educated with a sharp mind.”

“I have concern for my generation,” added another student who cited obsessions with mobile technology. “A good education can take you further than temporary gratification.”

One student credited her family for inspiration. “My mom always said, ‘Do your best,’ with Christmas speeches, Easter speeches, baseball or softball. She said, ‘That’s good, but I know you can do better.’ My grandfather always said, ‘Think, think, think. … Think intensely and critically.’ ”

Another speaker observed, “Education takes many forms, in the classroom and life experiences.” He then described experiences in Turkey, where the population is 99 percent Muslim, he said. “They are not terrorists. They are nice people, like you and me. I quickly realized their religion had nothing to do with terrorism.”

The students were judged on articulation, gestures, purpose, appearance and other factors.

The judges were Spring Meadows Elementary School Principal Christina Clark, U.S. Army North Col. Lisa Wilson, Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. financial advisor J. Maurice Gibbs and Tracy James, a Fort Sam Houston instructional systems specialist.

Organizer Nicholas credited lawyer Daryl Harris with the idea to start the event. Eventually, Bishop David Copeland of New Creation Christian Fellowship and chairman of the city Martin Luther King Jr. Commission added his support to the oratorical contest.

Copeland encouraged the students before they spoke. “What you say, how you say it and with whom you say it … can determine paths of achievement in your lives,” Copeland said. “You can make a difference.”