Students in the Dallas school district recently competed in the annual Foley Gardere Oratory Competition that honors Martin Luther King Jr. This year’s eight finalists, fourth- and fifth-graders, delivered speeches answering the question: "What would Dr. King say to the children of today's world?"
Read the winning speeches below:
By Jasira King, first place winner
March 24, 2018, during the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington, D.C., the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s granddaughter, a 9-year-old black girl just like me, stood on stage holding hands with a white student survivor of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting. Even though the purpose for that march was to stand up and speak out against violence and victimization, I believe the spirit of Dr. King still rejoiced because he saw so many people, including children whose skin were various shades of color, who love and pray in different ways, and who came from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds; this meant the labor of the civil rights movement was not in vain.
Dr. King was a man of integrity, intellect and initiative. When there were problems, he peacefully protested with a purpose. When there were obstacles, he organized with an objective. When the madness would break out, he marched with a meaning. So here we all are, over 60 years after the start of the civil rights movement.
What do I believe Dr. King would say to the children of today's world? I believe he would start with an apology. He would say he is sorry that the light of love has not been strong enough to overcome the darkness of despair. He would say he is sorry that you adults were not willing to go through the sacrifice, suffering and struggles that is required to cross the finish line of justice and equality. He would apologize to us children because the people of this world have allowed the fear of our differences to be greater than the faith in our commonalities.
Dr. King believed he saw the promised land, so I know he would not leave us feeling disappointed and defeated. Instead, he would encourage and edify us by saying: “Life is like a relay marathon, and it is the responsibility of each leg to run their own course the best way they can." He would quote Irvin John C. Morse Jr. by saying: “Children, you must first learn for leadership. Lead for positive change — then be the change you are striving for."
I can hear Dr. King explaining what that means: "Young people, you must learn for leadership by engaging with those generations who ran before you. Pay attention to their triumphs and tragedies. Observe how they handle moments of hostility, hurt and hate. Then prepare yourself to receive the baton of hope to leave this world to a positive change. We are technologically rich, but morally poor. We have made scientific breakthroughs, but continue to have political breakdown. I have said before: 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.' Use your voice and eventually your vote. Children, to be the change you are striving for, you must lead with a heart that wants to help and not hinder progress for all. Be quick to understand, and slow to anger. Be quick to listen, and slow to walk away. Be quick to comfort, and slow to criticize. The power is in each one of you to bring healing and happiness to this world.
"Remember the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We don't know if your generation is the anchor leg to bring us across the finish line of justice and equality, but we do know one day soon, that baton will be placed in your hands. So my beloved children, when you get that baton, you must take off and fly. If your arms get too heavy, get on the road and run. If your knees get weary, slow down and walk. If your feet are aching, get on all hands and knees and crawl. But whatever you do, never ever stop moving forward."
Jasira King is a fourth grader at William Brown Miller Elementary School.
— MillerDallasISD (@WBMillerSchool) January 18, 2019
By Tory Robertson, second place winner
What would Dr. King say to the children of today's world? Dr. King was an encouraging man that had many ideas that could help the children of today's world. Children of today really need to hear someone that can encourage them to stay focused and be receptive to new learning. If Dr. King were here to speak to the children of today's world, I think he would say for us to do what we can to get a good education. Dr. King stated: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence, plus character — that is the goal of true education.” He is trying to help us understand that intelligence plus character equals true education.
As we break this down, let's start with intelligence. Intelligence first begins with newborn babies. Newborns begin their intelligence journey as they focus and listen to their parents to develop knowledge. That is the first step of education.
Secondly, Dr. King would say for us to take a chance to do better. When there is a chance to do great, take that chance and a better chance might come that may lead to better opportunity. Dr. King's words can move all of us in a better direction by thinking about others when he stated: “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” That tells us that Dr. King wants us to think about others and about how our thoughts affect others. So don’t just think about yourself. Take the time to think about others, from their viewpoint.
Dr. King would say that everybody’s thoughts are valuable, and should be treated equally. This is why Dr. King stated: “We may all come on different ships, but we're on the same boat now.” That means that we are all Americans and that we should all be treated equally. Dr. King would also say that life can be hard sometimes; life is not always easy. Dr. King wants us to know that life was hard when he was marching for civil rights. Some people understood why he was marching, and some people did not. He was treated badly sometimes, but he still kept on working, taking chances and encouraging people. Dr. King stated: “There must come a time when one must take a position that is nor safe, nor polite, nor popular, but he must do it because it is right.” That means that not everybody is going to like what you do, but you do it because it is right.
To me, Dr. King's words are very important. I'll continue to study what his words mean and try to be the best leader I can be.
Tory Robertson is a fifth grade student at Clara Oliver Elementary School.
Congratulations again to our two #FoleyGardereMLK winners in Dallas and Houston - Jasira King and Nyla Johnson. You, and all the other finalists today, truly inspired us #MLKDay2019 #MLKDay @WBMillerSchool @lockhartES pic.twitter.com/Rt2UeSrSJ6
— Foley & Lardner LLP (@FoleyandLardner) January 19, 2019
By Tynia Matts, third place winner
If Dr. King were alive today I think he'd be very upset with the world as it is. Looking over his “I Have a Dream” speech, his appearances and the things he fought for, he would definitely be outraged. All that he fought for seems to have been forgotten.
He was an advocate for nonviolence, but now all we hear about are home invasions, shootings, murders, police brutality. The list goes on and on. Dr. King would probably say, “Really? After all the sacrifices made by my generation, this is how you repay us? I mean ... So you are asking, what I would say. I would say to the children of today, wait for it, wait for it. I would say: Be.” And I'm sure, we the children, would be confused, but because one of the children is me, with my smart self I would ask, “Be what?”
Dr. King would say, “Tynia, I'm glad you asked. I want the children today to be respectful, be responsible and be proactive.” He would go on to explain to us what he meant. He would talk about how being respectful to authority figures like parents, teachers, principals, policemen, as well as peers, siblings, even dogs and cats, because all lives matter, and that makes the world a more peaceful, nonviolent place.
One thing Dr. King said about being respectful that I found powerful was: “The first person you should respect is yourself. When you respect yourself, you can respect others. Aretha Franklin said it best when she sang: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” And after listening to Dr. King, respect, to me, means love.
Next, Dr. King talked about being responsible; responsible for learning new things. He told us that even as children, we have a responsibility to get our education. Education is the key to stopping the violence and nonsense that's going on around the world. For example, if the teacher’s teaching but you're disrupting the learning environment, that isn’t being responsible. Being responsible is a decision that we can make even as children that impacts our lives forever. Responsibility shows up when we show up to school on time and ready to learn.
Finally, Dr. King would tell the children today to be proactive. Don't be a bystander, covering your eyes and ears to the foolishness going on around you, but be proactive to overcome the challenges of today's society. Like the slogan says: “If you see something, say something.” Sometimes kids are faced with being labelled a snitch for reporting things to authority. But if it saves a life, then it's not snitching, rather it's “heroing," if I can make up a word. Be proactive when it comes to your fellow man. Be proactive in making the world better by being committed to excellence in all that you do. He helped us understand that being proactive means rather than waiting for someone else to change the world, we jumpstart the change by seeing a need and reacting to it.
To sum it all up, I really enjoyed the imaginative conversation with Dr. King. It really made me think about how I could be. It really helped to understand that even as kids, we can be helpful to our current and future situations. Dr. King fought the good fight. But it is not over. The fight continues. We must be respectful, responsible and proactive in our efforts to be better, and make this world a better place. I ended the conversation by asking Dr. King to take a selfie, and I asked him to caption it, and this is what he told me to post: #Buzzlikeabee.
Tynia Matts is a fifth grader at John Neely Bryan Elementary School.
— Foley & Lardner LLP (@FoleyandLardner) January 18, 2019
By Alexandra Torres
I'm here to tell you what I think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say to the children of today's generation. On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech in Washington, D.C., which is known as the greatest demonstration of freedom for our nation.
First, let's acknowledge the fact that we are not all treated equally. We live in a world where one's color and gender is frowned upon. I know if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were still alive today, he would tell us to stand up for what we believe, to not give up or settle for just getting by, and to make a difference in the world. If we continue to pursue our beliefs, then one day we will live in a world where the color of our skin and our gender will not make a difference.
He would remind us of when the architects of our republic wrote the words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir; heir, which means, a person legally entitled to the same rank of another. This document was a promise that all men — yes, black men as well as white men — would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I know Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would see the world today for just as it is. That he would see just how corrupt our own government, police force, and how those that are in politics try to separate white men from black men. He would remind us as human beings that we should treat others as we would want to be treated.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would not stand here today and give his speech while trying to separate us or divide us, but what he would do is stand here before you, as I am, and tell us that we should come together and pray that one day we will be given a great leader. A leader that will love all people and that want peace for our country, just as he would want for his own family.
I believe that when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children,” that he would still say that today. He would remind us of all the different dreams he had, and tell us to pursue our own. He would tell us not to be afraid whether we're black, white or any color, because a color does not define who you are as a human being. It is our duty on the youth of today to ensure that what is right is what is done. If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were here today, would you tell him his dream came true?
Alexandra Torres is a fifth grader at Wilmer-Hutchins Elementary School.
Video: Watch the competition
— Foley & Lardner LLP (@FoleyandLardner) January 18, 2019