Would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have approved the actions of the students who walked out of class in protest in the days that followed the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States?
That was the question seven competitors had to answer Saturday morning at Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen. Seven local high-school students competed in the first oratorical contest sponsored by the local chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
Avery Allen, a senior from Shoemaker High School, won the competition and the $500 prize that came with it. In his speech, he said that King would have commended students who let their voice be heard.
“This defeat left us hopeless, we had nothing left, we had fought with everything we had,” Allen said. “We went to the polls, and yet America still couldn’t change fully when we needed it to."
High school students in cities across the country — from Washington D.C. to Montgomery, Alabama to Los Angeles — walked out of classrooms in the days following Trump's election win over Hillary Clinton.
Allen’s position was that King would have been proud of the students that walked out of class, because while many of them did not get the chance to vote, they still made their voices heard.
“In this darkness that we have been entrenched in at a time of our enemies coming together when we thought they were completely gone, coming out of the shadows as our policeman, as our lawyers, as our judges, our hope came from the children,” he said. “The children who attended these high schools...the children that came out of their classroom to protest showed wisdom beyond their years. To let you know that hope is on the way.”
Allen is the captain of the tennis team at Shoemaker, and plans to attend the University of Texas to study physics. His goal is to eventually earn his doctorate.
Ellison High School senior Javier Anderson took home the second place prize, while Harker Heights High School freshman Jermahl Coleman finished in third place.
Anderson said that while King once said that riots are the language of the unheard, then protests must be the voice of the unheard. Still, his education allowed him to be as successful as he was.
“Simply put, he may not have created the game, but he knew how to play the game,” Anderson said.
Rodney Ates, a sixth grader at Union Grove Middle School, followed up the competition with an excerpt from King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Among the judges were some local notables, including Killeen police Chief Charles Kimble, Killeen Independent School District Deputy Superintendant Dr. Desmontes Stewart, professor of mathematics at Texas A&M University-Central Texas Christina Hamilton and candidate for the District 54 seat in the Texas House of Representatives Brad Buckley.