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Young Orators Light Up Downtown Church For MLK Speech Contest

Every year around this time, elementary school students from throughout Houston do their part in honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a speech competition. This year's winner stressed the importance of good education for today's youth.


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Fifty years after King’s March on Washington, the topic of the 18th Annual Gardere Martin Luther King Junior Oratory Competition was, “If Dr. King were speaking at a March on Washington today, what would he say?”

Each of the 12 finalists at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church downtown had his or her own unique idea of what King would say, although education, social justice and bullying were common themes.

Chrystyna Haywood, a fourth-grader at Bruce Elementary in the Fifth Ward, also said Dr. King would have an issue with how some younger African Americans present themselves.

“To my black men: Check yourselves, pull up your pants, be leaders in our community. Stop selling drugs illegally. Go to school, become pharmacists and do it legally. To my black princesses: Stop aspiring to be video vixens learning to twerk. M-mm! Get a job and work!”

Chrystyna was awarded third place for her inspiring speech.

Amari Venzor from Cornelius Elementary in Southeast Houston criticized how education is handled in America in his speech.

“I find it interesting that the richest nation on earth hasn’t given enough money to build better schools and pay teachers what they are worth.”

And he called on teachers to do it right.

“An educator is a calling, not a back-up plan. If teaching is your plan B, you cannot expect to turn out grade A students.”

Amari ended his speech by saying if Martin Luther King Junior were speaking at a march on Washington today, he would say:

“Until the valley of educational expectation is exulted and the mountains of style over substance is made low, that as long as we have breath in our bodies, then there is still work to be done. Thank you.”

Amari walked away with first place and the $1,000 prize money that comes with it. 

He says it took him three days to memorize his speech and work on the gestures that accompanied it. His parents and a vocal coach helped him put it all together but Amari did all the research for the speech himself.

He shares the recipe for his success:

“You have to make sure you get all your key points and make sure that you emphasize and that you remember the parts that make the judges go, ‘Wow, that’s great!’”

And it seems like Amari’s future is already carved out for him. He wants to be a speech writer and actor when he grows up.


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