Seven high school students displayed incredible talent as they leant their voices to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King at Sunday’s MLK Communication Contest at The Baby Grand in Wilmington.
The New Castle County students each were identified by their teachers as having a ability to write well and were encouraged to submit essays or poems to this year’s MLK contest. The competition challenged students to communicate their ideas using speech, poetry and/or rap. The seven finalists memorized their works and shared them on stage before a panel of judges, with supportive families and teachers looking on.
When Tyrek Traylor’s name was announced as the first place winner, the Conrad Schools of Science senior nearly fell over in his chair as the other finalists cheered and clapped for him. “I couldn’t believe that the judges picked me as the winner,” said Tyrek. “But I am very passionate about and strongly believe in what I wrote, and maybe the way I presented my speech was the reason I won,” he told TSD.
Tyrek called his essay One Love and summed up MLK’s legacy in this way: “How can you uniquely define a legend? Well, I call him pop because he fathered a nation. I call him doc because we were hated, but he cured the ailment with love. Under him, organized we became… I owe every opportunity I have to him. The fact that I’m standing here free to say how much freedom I actually have is reason enough.”
In addition to a $1,000 cash prize, Tyrek was invited by MLK Communication Competition judge Ajit George to share his remarks at an upcoming TEDxWilmington event. Tyrek also received some inspiring words of encouragement from Delaware Poet Laureate Al Mills, who gave Tyrek a signed book of his poetry.
Second place winner Nana Ohemaa Asante, who is a senior at the Charter School of Wilmington, impressed judges and members of the audience with her personal and descriptive poetry. Her remarks included: “I have learned to press my fingertips to the bathroom mirror each morning to prove my existence. Dr. King taught us to make imprints, to leave our fingerprints on this world. Our mouths were not made to shout curses, but breathe words of life. Molded by Godly hands with Godly intentions. We are all created for a purpose.”
Already looking ahead to her future Nana continued, “I want to sit down with my children and say, ‘your mommy was an immigrant, and like how my parents taught me, I will teach you to love the melanin on your skin, the curls on your head and the history of those who lived before you.” Nana received a $500 prize and a thunderous round of applause from the judges and audience.
Cab Calloway ninth grader and third place finisher Madison Washington was the youngest finalist, and she received an award of $250. Each of the finalists conveyed what it means to them to live in a society that continues to struggle with issues of race but voiced their hope for the future.
Other finalists included Destiny Cheeks – 10th grade, Cathedral Choir School of Delaware; Derioushe Johnson – 12th grade, William Penn High School; Quintin Johnson – 11th grade, Howard High School of Technology; and Di’zara Miller – 10th grade, Christiana High School.
The second annual MLK Communication Contest was sponsored and organized by Christ Church Christiana Hundred and YWCA Delaware. Christ Church parishioner Jane Rubini actually came up with the idea of a communication contest a few years ago as a way to motivate youth to honor Dr. King’s memory. “We heard many wonderful individuals today. What a memorable tribute to a remarkable man,” she said.
Finalist judges included Tina Betz, executive director of Light Up the Queen Foundation; Judge William Chapman, retired Family Court, senior counsel, Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP; Carlos de los Ramos, associate state director for community outreach, AARP; Ajit Mathew George, organizer and executive producer, TEDxWilmington; the Rev. Dr. Donald Morton, senior pastor, Tabernacle Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral; Hannah Sturgis, 2016 and 2015 Poetry Out Loud Delaware State Champion; and University of Delaware Vice Provost for Diversity Dr. Carol Henderson, who is also a professor of English and Black American Studies.
Conrad Assistant Principal Andy Vincent said he and his fellow educators feel strongly that teens are reminded about the historical significance of Dr. King. “We believe it’s important to engage students on a personal level with the work and beliefs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so that today’s generation of young students from all backgrounds do not lose sight of the guiding genius in Dr. King’s words and actions.”