Oakland’s MLK Oratorical Fest: an old contest with a new challenge

Some writers can stand on stage, all alone and before rows and rows of people, and recite original poetry. Others prefer to keep a lower profile.

Sophia Denison-JohnstonAt this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Fest, a new competition gave stage-shy students a chance to shine. About 50 students in Oakland’s public and private middle schools entered an essay contest. They submitted short persuasive pieces on people, living or dead, who have benefitted humanity.

I was one of the judges for the final competition, and I’ve posted links to their essays so you can read them too. (Note: We determined the winners before learning the writers’ names or where they went to school.)

The first-place winner was Sophia Denison-Johnston (right), an eighth-grader at the private Redwood Day School. She wrote a piece titled “Martin Delaney – AIDS Activist and Lifesaver.”

Second place went to Emily Zierdt-Smith, of Montera Middle School, who wrote about Greg Mortenson (author of “Three Cups of Tea”) in “A Man’s Dream for a Better Society.” Sarah Phillips, a seventh-grader at Redwood Day, also wrote about Mortenson in an essay titled, “An Inspiration.”

Honorable Mentions went to: Francisca Ramirez, Elmhurst Community Prep, for “He Made a Difference,” about Martin Luther King, Jr.; Quinn Sullivan, Montera Middle School, for “Unexpected Art Form,” about Marie Antoinette; and Chavante Travillian, Frick Middle School, for “Mary Bethune, African American Educator.”

Congratulations to all of the winners. Keep on writing!

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    I’m waiting for student selections of people who have started or operated Companies, Industries or produced innovations in manufacturing or distribution of goods & services.

    Once our schools taught about industry and commerce. It seems now we focus on social workers. That is not a good thing. This kind of focus gets us – more social workers (community activists??).

    Meanwhile our foreign competition studies Ford and Edison, or maybe Gates & Jobs. I’d like our schools to cover Warren Buffet, more so than the I Have A Dream crowd. Because I want a lot more Warren Buffets from OUSD students.

    The Bay Area (and CA) is replete with people who came here with nothing, married or single, and made their fortune. OUSD kids aren’t being schooled in those histories much less being introduced to the local titans of commerce. They should be.

    Because Ken and Barbie are.

    Brave New World.

  • Jessica Stewart

    Congrats to Francisca! She’s an amazingly intelligent young woman, and one I’m proud to call my former math student. :)

    I hope every one of these kids gets a few high fives at school tomorrow from their teachers!

  • union Supporter-But

    Nextset: If you read the story of Greg Mortenson you would know that he built schools that required a growing percentage of the educated would be women and girls. The business model, while philanthropic at first blush, is designed to promote business, industry, advanced medical care and education of all citizens of the villages in which he has helped build schools.

    In the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, these schools are untouched by Taliban and Mujahadeen, something our entire government, military fighting power and other types of diplomacy have been unable to do with over $50 billion or more. You can’t get much more business like that simple business models that save billions of dollars, educate the masses and outperform all of the competition.