Tristan Whitfield, 10, knows that the country has made significant progress toward equality, but the fifth grader believes much more needs to be done to “drive out hate.”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “saw the injustices, the lack of hope for our people, racial injustice, economic injustice and civil injustice,” Tristan said before a small crowd of family members and educators at W.H. Adamson High School.
Tristan won first place at the 30th annual MLK Jr. Oratory Competition after a piercing speech Friday. The student from Paul L. Dunbar Learning Center said he knew that King had fought for equal rights, but the competition allowed him to learn much more about the civil rights leader’s work advocating for the importance of education.
In his speech, Tristan reflected on how King would assess our progress in achieving his vision for the country.
“He held up the mantle of peace,” he said.
Tristan urged others to live by King’s words and stop passively accepting evil. Instead, he continued, the country needs to take action against it and stop perpetuating it.
“Hate is too great a burden to bear,” Tristan said, adding that others must continue to remember why King’s dream was necessary. “We must live by Dr. King’s code.”
Tristan Whitfield Sr., the winner’s father, beamed proudly when his son’s name was called out. He knew his outspoken and straightforward son would win.
“The only thing that stops you from being successful in life is you,” Whitfield said. “I’m glad that he’s starting to see that super early on: that your hard work is what gets you far in life.”
Rebecca Whitfield, the boy’s mother, said that while she gave him suggestions, his speech was “entirely his.”
Just like last year, an anonymous donor watching the competition online was moved by the speeches and doubled the prizes.
As the first-place winner, Whitfield received $2,000. He said part of the money will go toward a one-week summer camp.
Jaliaha Rodgers, a fifth grader at JP Starks Math, Science and Technology Vanguard, won second place and received $1,000. Arianna Garcia, a fifth grader at L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary, came in third and took home $400.
The remaining finalists — Zihair Douglas, Daniella Goffney-Mitchell, Kiyan Harrison, Diamond McKinney and Chance Taylor — each received $200.
More than 100 students from 23 Dallas ISD schools submitted videos during the competition’s first round. Of those, 13 students advanced to the semifinals, and only eight moved on to the final competition.
This is the second year the event was streamed online.
The judges, who all joined the competition virtually, included Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown; Dallas Chief of Police Eddie García; Darren Woodson, former Dallas Cowboys safety; Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks; and Jae Ellis, a former firm lawyer and Highland Park ISD school board member.
Canceling the event for the past two years would have been easier than to deal with the logistical challenges that the pandemic brought on, but the children “needed to be heard,” said Michael Newman, a managing partner with the Foley & Lardner law firm that organizes the event.
The competition aims to continue spreading King’s message and lessons from one generation to the next.
The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.
The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.