Empty seats were hard to find inside Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Houston. Instead of a service in the historic place of worship, the audience heard 12 well-mannered elementary school students speak 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?
She may have been the first to speak, but 4th grader Samaya Watson of McGregor Elementary set the standard with her rendition.
Winner of the 2012 MLK Oratory Competition, Matthias McBride
"When you leave this competition, put on a badge of courage, and make changes to the world that other people can see. Be a voice for those people, who cannot find the right words to speak. And make peace with those who are hard to get along with. You know who I'm talking about!"
Judges awarded Watson third place for challenging everyone to overcome fears and speak up for the oppressed. Donovan Williams is in the 5th grade at Cornelius Elementary. He won second place for connecting with the audience as Dr. King did as a drum major for justice.
"He would say, 'Don't give in to what the naysayers say. You've got to play in a uniformly issue and play the ball where it lays. Because the art of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
But it was the message of Matthias McBride, a 5th grader at Pleasantville Elementary that came out on top. He suggested that instead of placing our hope in each other, we placed it in our position and possessions.
"There comes a time, when one must take a position, that is neither safe, nor popular, nor political. But one must take that position, because it is right. Thank you."
Claude Treece of the sponsoring law firm Gardere Wynne Sewell, says the students got the message.
"The fact that a fourth or fifth grader would recognize that a topic that says -- 'What would Dr King's message be about hope, in the world today' -- that he would have the ability to conceptualize that and then give a speech about it is terrific. That's what it's all about."
He says decades after his untimely death, we seek to bring the vision of Dr. King in a manner that stirs the soul, to pursue his dream of a just society.