MLK Jr. Remembered In Kids Speeches For Annual Gardere Oratory Competition

Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday is celebrated in a special way every year in Houston. Twelve elementary school children came together at a church downtown to give speeches honoring Dr. King. The kids tried to channel his activism, vision and zeal. They all succeeded, even if there could only be one winner.

Downtown’s Antioch Missionary Baptist Church was crammed with parents, teachers, friends and relatives of the twelve 4th and 5th grade boys and girls taking part in the 17th Annual Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition.

First up was Jayla Wright from Burrus Elementary on the northwest side of the city. The theme was: “If you could talk directly to Dr. King about your dream for our future, what would you tell him?”

“In the year 2012 I had a dream. In my community I see a problem not only with the way that the children dress but the adults too. Young men, pull up your pants and young ladies dress and cover yourselves where people look at you and respect you.”

Jayla was certainly practicing what she preached as she crisscrossed the stage in her colorful but formal- looking dress. Two minutes later she was done and had warmed up the crowd nicely for the next eleven competitors.

Some students tried to do something different like Arriana Farrington from Pleasantville Elementary on Houston’s northeast side, who sang to punctuate her speech about persevering.

“If I could talk directly to Dr. Martin Luther King Junior about my dream for our future I would tell him. Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around. Turn me around … ”

A performance which received a standing ovation and riotous applause, only to be outdone by Curtis Babers from Lockhart Elementary, who spoke about making the world a better place. He used sign language for his hearing impaired mom, something which had never been done in the contest’s seventeen year history. 

“I have a dream for the future that is too beautiful to keep bottled in my heart. I dream that no more of God’s children will go hungry or suffer dark dreary nights wondering how things will turn out.”

Curtis walked off stage to cheers, screams and tears from his mother, brother and teacher. When all twelve contestants were finished the six judges which included HISD’s recently elected First Vice President Anna Eastman had the difficult job of picking a winner. After half an hour’s deliberation and as Claude Treece started to announce who that was, the room erupted.

“And out first place winner inspired us all with his signing which was a special … ”

Curtis Babers was the winner and he’s already focused on his future.

“When I finish getting my degree I can start working with some children and learn sign language and maybe I can host the MLK next year.”


Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Executive Producer, Special Projects

Edel is an executive producer of special projects working on station-wide, multi-platform initiatives such as DiverseCity and Houston Public Media's political podcast Party Politics. At Houston Public Media, Edel started as a reporter covering veteran issues and the quirkier side of life in Houston. Before her time in public radio she worked for...

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