Chicago Elementary Students Presented Speeches at 3rd Annual MLK Jr. Oratory Competition

On Friday, February 11, ten fourth- and fifth-grade students from across Chicago Public Schools and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boys & Girls Club presented original three-to-five-minute speeches in the 3rd Annual Foley & Lardner MLK Jr. Oratory Competition

The event was held virtually this year, and students’ speeches addressed the question “How would Dr. King assess our progress in achieving his vision for America?”

Payton Sawyer from Lenart Elementary, the first-place winner, believes Dr. King would be proud of the progress made towards non-violence and equal rights but saddened by the setbacks along the way.

There is still a lot of work to be done to reach Dr. King’s goal for economic justice.

The fifth-grader pointed out that while President Barack Obama was judged on the content of his character and not his skin color, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed because he “looked suspicious,” sparking the Black Lives Matter movement. Sawyer went on to reference a 2019 statistic that only 42.1% of African-Americans owned homes, the lowest rate of any racial group in the country. She noted, “This percentage has not really changed from the 1960s when only 38.4% of African-Americans owned homes. There is still a lot of work to be done to reach Dr. King’s goal for economic justice.” She continued, “I believe he would remind us we all must keep working together to make America a peaceful and non-violent place, where everybody is treated equally, and no one is stereotyped based on the color of their skin.”

Fifth-grader Anistaja Walters from Wendell Smith Elementary placed second, and Michael Flowers, a fifth-grader from Robert A. Black Magnet School, placed third.

The oratory competition is held each year in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day to encourage people to remember and pay tribute to the late civil rights leader’s legacy. Presented, hosted, and sponsored by Foley & Lardner LLP, the event is designed to highlight the cultural diversity of the community, while recognizing and encouraging the writing and presentation skills of elementary school students. Traditionally held the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Chicago competition was postponed this year. 

Students are evaluated on delivery, stage presence and decorum, content interpretation, and memorization. The final rounds were judged by a panel of prominent community and local business leaders.

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Kira Dault

Kira Dault is a writer and editor who lives in Chicago with her family. She can be found on Twitter @kiradault.