"I am very proud of the children here today," said Mayor Glenn Cunningham at the Eighth Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oratory Contest Thursday.
The event was held at City Hall and involved Jersey City students from grades three to eight.
"The variety of students represented at this event, and the knowledge these students have of Dr. King, shows that his dream has become real," said Cunningham.
According to contest organizer Joan Moore of the Division of Cultural Affairs, the preliminaries for the competition began back in February, when participating schools held their own contests to determine who would represent the schools.
"The contestants had to be between grades three and eight," said Moore. "Due to the previous year's overwhelming response, each school was limited to a maximum of two per grade category."
Each participant had to recite their choice of a speech by King and keep the performance to 10 minutes.
Asha Herbert, who took first place in the grades six to eight category, recited a portion of King's famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" before a gathering of judges, parents, and teachers.
"I am very happy and proud to have won first place," said Herbert, who attends Public School 6. "I had a lot of help from my mother, sister, and aunt."
Herbert said she chose to do a portion of King's "Letter" because so many other of the students taking part in the contest were doing the more famous "I Have a Dream" speech, which King made at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
"I thought it was the piece by King that I would be able to understand the best," Herbert explained. "If I understood it, I could recite it better."
Like Herbert, Tyrone Stevens, who took first place in the grades three to five section, was awarded a $500 savings bond provided by Fleet Bank.
Stevens, a fifth grader at Public School 41, delivered the last speech King gave before King was assassinated. "I worked for a week on the speech," said Stevens. "I watched videos of Dr. King and learned from those, too."
After he memorized the speech, Stevens rehearsed in front of audiences. "I did the speech in front of other kids so I wouldn't get scared," said Stevens, who added he would like to be an actor when he gets older. "I performed it so many times that I didn't have any fear when I was up front today."
Cheryl Murphy, one of the judges for the contest, praised all the participants in the finals Thursday.
"The kids were just tremendous," said Murphy. "This is the fifth time I have been a judge with the oratory contest, and each year the kids get better."
"If Dr. King were alive today, he would smile to see what these children have done," Murphy added.
The second place winner in the three to five grade category was Azlin Brown, who took home a $250 savings bond.
Brown started the contest with the "I Have a Dream" speech. "I have to admit that is my favorite speech," said Brown. "I started working on getting the speech down three months ago."
Brown added she had been studying King in social studies class. She said she looks up to the civil rights leader.
"I feel Dr. King was a great role model," Brown stated. "If he were alive today, a lot of people would be saying that to him."
Jeanette Williams, one of Brown's teachers at Public School 6, said Brown began intensive work on the speech inside and outside class. "She even worked on it in the lunchroom," said Williams. "She even performed in front of other classes."
"I'm very proud that Azlin participated in this contest," said Brown's mother Nieva.
Jersey City NAACP President Kabili Tayri, who served as an emcee for the contest, stressed the importance of students for the future of America.
"What we have seen here today is proof that children are our only natural resource," Tayri commented. "Not riches or the economy, but our children are the greatest resource."
The winners of the Eighth Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratory Contest, held Thursday at City Hall, are as follows:
Grades 3-5: Honorable Mention, Nora Dietz, Kevin Kirkland and Nimi Dharithreesan; First Prize - Tyrone Stevens; Second Prize - Azlin Brown; Third Prize - Daryl Domo
Grades 6-8: Honorable Mention - Mabel Alvarez, Zarina Rose Lagman and Sana Humayun; First Prize - Asha Herbert; Second Prize - Marquis Wright; Third prize - John Payumo.
The first prize winners received a $500 savings bond, while second place received a $250 savings bond and third place was given $100 savings. Honorable mention winners were awarded a collection of speeches by Dr. King.