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Youths from across Ohio honor Martin Luther King Jr. in oratorical contest

(January 17, 2019) — Winners of the 2018 Statewide MLK Oratorical Contest spoke to Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, oppression in America and the power of love Thursday for the 34th annual event at Trinity Episcopal Church in Downtown Columbus.

Primary-division winner Jaxson Edwards’ oration was a play on the “Sesame Street” segment “The Number of the Day” — his favorite TV show when he “was younger.”

Jaxson, a third-grader from Akron, announced that the day’s number was “one, wonderful one,” and he left the audience with a reminder: “One, wonderful one. … You count, you matter, you are important. You are one of a kind.”

Adonia Balqis, a fifth-grader at Clinton Elementary in Clintonville, discussed love, injustice, the NFL anthem protests and the lack of diversity among her American Girl dolls.

“Even in my world of make-believe, I’ve experienced disparity and discrimination,” she said, clutching her doll.

After her speech and roaring applause, announcer Napoleon Bell addressed Adonia: “Thank you, senator.”

The audience burst into laughter.

Mackenzie Lewis, a seventh-grader at St. Catharine School in Columbus’ Eastmoor neighborhood, spoke to King’s legacy through a rhythmic and passionate delivery of “Glory.”

“Dr. King, you couldn’t finish your fight for freedom, justice and equal rights, but I can, and I will,” Mackenzie said.

The senior-division winner, 12th-grader Quinica Garrett of Cleveland, performed her poem, “A Letter to Dr. King.” In it, she thanked King for his work and shared her experience with racial discrimination.

She said of King that “you didn’t give up. And because you didn’t, I won’t.”

The celebration — sponsored by the Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission and the Ohio Department of Administrative Services — also featured an address by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted. He opened by reiterating the call of the Rev. Richard Burnett of Trinity Episcopal to eradicate hate and unite in the spirit of King.

Hate “destroys the vessel that contains it,” Husted said. “I think that goes for people, that goes for communities, that goes for states and nations — everyone. The more we can do to drive hate out of every nook, cranny and corner of our society, the better off we will all be.”

Husted then acknowledged the theme of this year’s event, “It’s Our Turn: A Movement Toward Justice,” and he shared a passage from King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

“We need to come to find, in America, more understanding,” Husted said. “I don’t just mean in terms of racial diversity, I mean where we come from. Those life experiences shape us, and everybody’s experience is real. … Understanding that helps us grow together.”

Husted acknowledged King’s ability to bridge people’s differences, and he encouraged people to “build bridges” in their communities.

“Until we create that understanding, until we build those bridges, until we change our rules and our laws and our viewing of the world, America cannot, and could not, live up to the promise Dr. King made people understand,” he said. “And until we get that, equality and justice are not served.”