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Lockhart Elementary student Curtis Babers immediately grabbed everyone’s attention during the 2013 Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition. Not only because of his powerful message, but also because of how he delivered his speech – in American Sign Language.
Babers, who was named the winner for this year’s competition, began by reciting one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous quotes, that “faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the staircase.” The fourth-grader, whose mother is hearing-impaired, said he believes everyone deserves healthcare. He also got a round of applause when he said “women shouldn’t aspire to be vixens or a ball player’s girlfriend and that men shouldn’t use their circumstances as excuses for why they don’t succeed.”
Hundreds of spectators filled Antioch Missionary Baptist Church to listen to the twelve finalists deliver speeches answering the question, “If you could talk directly to Dr. King about your dream for the future, what would you tell him?” The students’ answers ranged from ending the war in Afghanistan to stopping racism and improving education.
2001 MLK Oratory Competition Winner Jonathan Howard, who attended Lockhart Elementary School and graduated from Yates High School, was the featured speaker. He recalled his experience in the competition and explained how it changed his life forever. Howard, a recent Morehouse University graduate, told the students that even if they didn’t get the grand prize, they were all still winners because of this experience and the process they went through to be selected as finalists.
Malcolm Taylor of Thompson Elementary and Arriana Farrington of Pleasantville Elementary School were awarded second and third prizes, respectively, and each finalist received a monetary prize.
Newly elected HISD Board of Education President Anna Eastman and Chief Elementary School Officer Sam Sarabia were among the judges. This was the 17th year for the Oratory Competition, which was created to celebrate cultural diversity and to recognize exceptional HISD students as they learn about Dr. King’s legacy.
This year’s finalists were:
Curtis Babers, Lockhart Elementary School 1st place
Malcolm Taylor, Thompson Elementary School 2nd place
Arriana Farington, Pleasantville Elementary School 3rd place
Jayla Wright, Burrus Elementary School
Elijah Lozano, Crespo Elementary School
Katia Villalobos, Dodson Elementary School
Kevin Kabanda, Bruce Elementary School
Samaya Watson, MacGregor Elementary School
Mariam Wague, Sutton Elementary School
Marquis Moore, Windsor Village Elementary School
Amari Venzor, Cornelius Elementary School
Joseph Flores, Park Place Elementary School