New Rochelle youth deliver messages inspired by King
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Noelani Sajous, 12, handed her speech to the judges and walked up to the altar of Shiloh Baptist Church on Sunday to share a message inspired by the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"We need to open up our minds to the possibilities of what we can achieve," Sajous said dressed in her Sunday best before some 350 worshipers.
Sajous was among nine youth participating in the church's 14th annual oratorical competition. The Sunday school students, ages 9-17, shared messages of hope, perseverance and freedom in their reflections on the slain civil rights leader's words.
HV remembers the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
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| MLK daughter speaks out
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King's birthday is celebrated nationwide Monday.
Jasmine Shaw, 17, spoke confidently, dressed in a smart gray skirt suit. She raised a pointed finger to underline how her generation needed to stop listening to messages in rap music about drugs and promiscuity.
"We argue over who has the highest Jordans and the latest fashions," said Shaw, the winner in the 14- to 17-year-old division. "We need to overcome."
The youths spent almost three months researching, writing and memorizing their speeches in preparation for the challenge.
The winners in the three age groups win cash prizes ranging from $150 to $300. Area court judges decided the contest. Among them were Supreme Court Justice Bruce E. Tolbert, Westchester County Court Judge John Colangelo and New Rochelle City Court Judge Gail Rice.
Some of the youth stumbled and paused during their presentations, but shouts from the crowd encouraged them on.
"The good news is, we have not given up and we, in fact, keep dreaming," said 12-year-old Julian Epps, who won in the 11- to 13-year-old division.
Annie Harriage, 9, won in the 8- to 10-year-old division.
Jade Williams, 13, of New Rochelle, said after the event that participating in the contest in the past two years has made her more confident.
"I used to never be able to do public speaking," Jade said.
Program organizer Julia Robinson, who brought the oratorical contest tradition with her from her home state of North Carolina, said one student even credited the contest with helping her get into college, as the student spoke about the experience during her college interview.
"It prepares them for public speaking," Robinson said.