MLK Oratory Project Houston elementary students compete in an annual MLK Oratory contest, delivering a speech inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" address. The results are creative and often humorous and touching. Laurie Johnson of Houston Public Radio reports.
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MLK Oratory Project

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MLK Oratory Project

MLK Oratory Project

MLK Oratory Project

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Houston elementary students compete in an annual MLK Oratory contest, delivering a speech inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" address. The results are creative and often humorous and touching. Laurie Johnson of Houston Public Radio reports.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

At this time of year, the sanctuary of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Houston fills with the sound of elementary schools students. They gather here to compete in a speech contest inspired by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Out of the mouths of 10-year-olds come eloquent words full of idealism and passionately delivered.

Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports on this year's MLK Oratory Project.

(Soundbite of choir singing)

LAURIE JOHNSON: The Antioch Missionary Baptist Church is one of the oldest African-American churches in Houston. It was founded in 1866 by former slaves. And today it's surrounded by office buildings and sky scrapers. As the Salvation Army Harbor Light Choir sings, the audience filed in to the dark worn pews. Ten students compete for first place, nine are girls.

The only boy, fifth-grader Christopher Borders, captured the audience's attention right away with his view of the future.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER BORDERS (Student; Contestant, MLK Oratory Project): I am Christopher D. Borders, the first American president to pass 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.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOHNSON: Christopher told the audience those achievements might sound far-fetched, but because of Dr. King, all of his dreams could become reality.

By the time Christopher and all of these children were born, Dr. King had been dead for three decades, but they still find comfort and inspiration from his legacy.

Kaylin Smith is next on stage. She competed last year and she's back to try for first place.

Ms. KAYLIN SMITH (Student; Contestant, MLK Oratory Project): 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.

(Soundbite of cheers)

JOHNSON: Kaylin reminded the onlookers that because of Dr. King, she has the freedom to go to any school, eat in any restaurant and drink from any water fountain.

It looked like she would win this year's oratory until 10-year-old Perrie Jones stepped on stage.

Ms. PERRIE JONES (Student; Winner, MLK Oratory Project): Little Miss Jones is a bratty 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.

JOHNSON: Little Ms. Jones continued to wow the crowd so much so organizers awarded her first place and $1,000 savings bond for college. As she concluded her speech, she said: There's no stopping me now. With my eyes I see it, with my mind I believe and with my hands I will one day achieve it.

For NPR News, I'm Laurie Johnson in Houston.

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