The Antioch Missionary Baptist Church is a fitting place for this event. It's the oldest African-American church in Houston, founded in 1866 by former slaves. Dozens of audience members fill the dark, worn pews, waiting expectantly for the speeches while the Salvation Army Harbor Light Choir performs.
Ten students are competing for first place. Fifth-grader Christopher Borders, the only boy in the competition this year, captured the audience's attention from the very start of his speech.
"Please allow me to introduce myself, I am Christopher D. Borders, the first American president to pass for 5,000 yards and 60 touchdowns in an NFL season, to score 102 points in a single NBA game and to successfully perform a multi-organ transplant using a computerized robotic arm while commanding a mission in space. Yes, these achievements may seem far-fetched to most, but because of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. all of my dreams can be reality."
Christopher promised he'll honor Dr. King by becoming a man of strength, character and faith. Kaylin Smith is another crowd-pleaser. She competed last year as a fourth-grader and made it into the top three. She's back this year trying for first place.
"I am opportunity, you are opportunity, we are all opportunity. And they say when opportunity knocks, well I, Kaylin Smith I am opportunity and I'm not knocking, I'm coming on through. Welcome to the good life."
Kaylin had it in the bag, that is until ten-year-old Perri Jones stepped on stage.
"Little Miss Jones is a brave little girl, who lives in a world where she doesn't have to sit in the back because her skin is black or doesn't have to sit down because she is the only girl with four brothers around. She is not afraid to soar or even to explore. She is bright and can fight for her rights. She is very brave, even though her forefathers were slaves. And because of Dr. King, she believes that she can do anything."
There was no doubt about it: little Miss Jones just gave the winning speech. As the winner, she'll receive a $1,000 savings bond for college. And she says she really will achieve her dreams.
"I'm going to keep going. I'm not going to just let the dream go away, I'm going to grab my dream and keep it. I'm going to try my hardest."
You can hear Perri Jones entire speech on our website, kuhf dot org. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.Î¾Î¾