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Dallas ISD Students Reflect On MLK, His Legacy, What He'd Say If He Were Alive

If Martin Luther King, Jr. were speaking at a march on Washington today, what would he say?

That was the topic of Friday's Gardere 2014 MLK Jr. Oratory Competition. Eight Dallas ISD students addressed a crowd at the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas. The winner was Kayla O’Neal, a fourth grader at J.P. Starks Math, Science & Technology Vanguard Elementary School.

Here are excerpts of Kayla's prepared remarks:

He would rejoice to see children of all races siting in classrooms learning together, problem solving together, and sharing goals and dreams with each other. He would acknowledge the fact that African-Americans have come a mighty long way. No longer do people of color have to go to the back of restaurants, but now they are owners and CEOs of restaurants and all other types of businesses. He would speak about the progress we have made as a country. I believe Dr. King would of course have to mention the election of our first African-American president, Barack Obama. I know that his heart would swell with pride. However, Dr. King would also have to acknowledge all of the things that are affecting not only our communities, but this entire country. The No. 1 problem that he would address would be drugs in our community. He would be disappointed that we have let drugs destroy our families and our neighborhoods. He would tell us that drugs are nothing but another form of slavery. If you chain a man’s mind, you chain his future.

Kayla says she practiced her speech every day at home and at school. Her bio states that she was "inspired by the belief that everything Dr. King spoke about during his life was true and helped change the world for the better." Kayla is a cheerleader, and participates in her school choir. She enjoys writing poetry and turning it into rap. She hopes to own her own real-estate company and "sell fancy homes to people."

KERA 90.1 FM will air highlights from some of the students' speeches on Monday.

Here are the competition finalists and their schools as well as a few excerpts of their speeches:

2nd Place: Etana King, John Neely Bryan Elementary School

And now before Dr. King takes his seat, my young mind can imagine him extending his right hand and saying, “Republicans, Democrats, Independent, Tea Party, Undecided. Come.” Then he would extend his left hand saying, “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, Hindus, Atheists, and Non Religious. Come.” He would lean to the center of the podium and say to all my brothers and sisters, "Come. Pick up your instruments. Come play your part and join us in the parade for justice and equality. The end of the Parade route is in sight, but we still have some marching to do.”

3rd Place: Jamiya McNeil, Charles Rice Learning Center

We are back to tell the young people that they do matter and we expect great things from them. Dream big! Dreams are for those who will not accept reality…I am Somebody. I am Somebody. I may be poor, but I am Somebody. I may be young, but I am somebody. I may be on welfare, but I am somebody. I may have curly hair, but I am somebody. I may have straight hair, but I am somebody. I am black, brown, white. I speak a different language, but I must be respected. Protect. Never rejected. I am God’s child. I am somebody.


Ahmad Crawford, Thomas L. Marsalis Elementary School

The struggle of Americans for decent jobs and working conditions in 1963 mirror the struggle of workers everywhere today, regardless of race. America, we must change our focus on creation a nation where our children receive the best education! We must focus on building a strong economy where able-bodied men and women can work to provide for all their family’s needs. I know that this is a mighty task, but America you have proven that through hard work, dedication and perseverance you can make this next step of my dream a reality as well.

Luke Nayfa, Harry C. Withers Elementary School

I know we all get busy and hope this virus will one day go away. We fear we will not make a difference. Let’s unite together. Let’s unite together and take the pledge to join this movement. I want you to say, “No,” to this type of behavior and help break the barrier of bullying. If we only help one child, then we were heard and their silence was broken! I had a dream that my four little children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Only, when bullying is stopped can that dream really come true. Our challenge begins today, right here, right now!

Sedailiah Rochelle, Thomas Tolbert Elementary School

In the world today, even though we have made great strides and overcome many prejudices we are still not where we need and want to be. We are facing government shutdowns, citizens with little or no health insurance, and many, many Americans are homeless and without jobs. Americans today, as in the past, have taken up a life of crime and are killing themselves and others at alarming rates. Dr. King would challenge us to get more involved in education and the parenting of our children. He would present us with the charge to get off of our couches watching reality shows and playing video games and get involved in activities that would encourage more of our students to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.

Chaelon Simpson, Ronald E. McNair Elementary School

Straightforward! Like Martin Luther King Jr. when he gave all of those great speeches. He wasn’t afraid of being disliked by others. Nor was he afraid of the consequences. He spoke of equality and justice for all, not just a few. Against all odds he stood up for the weak, the meek and the poverty stricken. Martin Luther King Jr. was a visionary, a dreamer, a leader.

Aisha Young, William Brown Miller Elementary School

If Dr. King were speaking at the March on Washington today, he would say, “My good people, we are all God’s people. We all have our own personality. Now stop bullying and we can live together in peace. This world is for all of us!” Dr. King will continue telling about his dream of everyone working together to make the world a better place.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the contest's third-place winner.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.