Pleasantville 5th Grader Wins 16th Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition
Historic Houston Church is Packed for the Annual Salute to the Civil Rights Leader
Samaya Watson’s delivery and humor set the bar high for her fellow competitors as she was the first to stand and deliver in the 16th Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition on Friday. The MacGregor Elementary School fourth grader, who took third-place honors, challenged the audience to overcome its fears to speak-up for the oppressed.
Classmates, elected officials, community members, and HISD educators filled the historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, located at 500 Clay in downtown Houston, as 12 students spoke on the topic, "As a student of Dr. King's life, what message of hope do you think he would have for the world today?"
Donovan Williams, a fifth grader at Cornelius Elementary, rendered a powerful yet natural delivery that made an emotional connection with the audience. Donovan, who won second place, said: “As a drum major for justice, Dr. King would surely share the baton with us.” Donovan noted that Dr. King would be pleased to see the diversity represented in our local and national leadership. Donovan took second place in the competition. Watson took Third.
In the end, the judges declared Pleasantville Elementary School fifth grader Matthias McBride the winner of this year’s competition (click here for a video link to the winning speech). McBride suggested that we as a nation have not lost hope, but, perhaps we have misplaced hope by placing too much emphasis on our possessions and our position in life. Taken a bit by surprise by his victory, Matthias shed a few tears when he accepted the top honor. It was the only thing that belied the age of the young student whose stage presence and mastery of his speech transfixed the audience.
In winning, McBride receives $1,000 savings bond.
Claude Treece, operating partner of the sponsoring law firm Gardere, noted that the contest has become Houston’s traditional kick-off to the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday weekend. “We wondered if the children would pick up on some of the issues of the day, if they would consider how Dr. Martin Luther King might connect with people today. They did not disappoint”.
Other students such as Golfcrest Elementary’s Jennifer Soto seemed to speak from personal experiences when she declared Dr. King would surely fight against bullying. As the final speaker Anderson Elementary’s Santos Lopez, fittingly, closed out the competition with the immortal words of Dr. King’s Speech from the Lincoln Memorial, “Free at Last!”
Finalists in this year’s competition were:
Myron Gillum Thompson ES
Kevin Kabanda Bruce ES
Santos Lopez Anderson ES
Matthias McBride Pleasantville ES
Eula Pearson Whidby ES
Dinochi Sandifer Windsor Village ES
Gabriel Seyoum Lockhart ES
Jennifer Soto Golfcrest ES
Annete Villegas Rodriguez ES
Samaya Watson MacGregor ES
Triniti West Dodson ES
Donovan Williams Cornelius ES
The Houston Independent School District is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest in the United States with 298 schools and more than 200,000 students. The 301-square-mile district is one of the largest employers in the Houston metropolitan area with nearly 30,000 employees.