By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Sixty grade and high school students showcased their oratorical skills Saturday, April 21 during the PUSH Excel “Making A Difference” oratory tournament held at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters, 930 E. 50th St.
PUSH Excel, headed by Reverend Janette Wilson, and Cook County Associate Judge Stanley Hill, expressed pride in the children as each recited poems, spoken words and speeches from the likes of Frederick Douglas, Michelle Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. thanked the judges for their volunteerism and encouraged the youth to continue striving for excellence.
In addressing the youth and a number of judges who scored each candidate, Reverend Wilson said the oratory program began with the late Ora Lee Sanders. “She was a retired school teacher who thought it was important that our young people learn to enunciate and to speak correctly.
“She began to teach them history through oratory,” Wilson said. “Judge Hill, over the last seven years has taken our oratorical program and competition to a level that is beyond any one of our imaginations.”
Wilson praised Hill for creating a strong partnership with the Illinois Judicial Council. “He has increased our relationship with the broadcast media, and he has expanded the program beyond the geographic borders of Chicago, Cook County and Illinois to other cities and states around America.” She said some of the students came from Louisiana, Michigan and Alabama.
Wilson said the oratory program is one of PUSH Excel’s most outstanding programs. “We have a robotics competition we will feature at the convention this year. We have a financial literacy program. Many of the students will be playing the stock market game in the fall, and we have a performing arts program we will launch this summer that includes dance, drama and persuasive speech and debate.”
Thanking the judges for volunteering their time to this program “without any relationship of blood or family ties,” Judge Hill acknowledged their sacrifice.
“We arm our children with education and teach them the values of building character and discipline,” said Hill. “PUSH Excel is not just a program. It is an attitude about learning and living in our society and doing so with a freedom-fighting spirit and a life-long thirst for learning.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education. The selected speeches focus on the message, not the messenger, to promote strong moral ideals, excellence in education, and sound communication skills,” explained Hill.
Cook County Judge Andrea M. Buford, chair of the Illinois Judicial Council, which co-sponsored the tournament, said, “Part of our mission is to serve the community by helping the youth reach their positive goals.”
She added, “The children’s participation in this program will prepare them for any professional path that they choose. Good communication skills lead to successful contributing members of our society.”
NBC5’s Regina Waldroup was emcee of the program. She too encouraged the students to continue to strive for success. “I grew up with a speech impediment. I was a stutterer.” She said her parents sent her to a female coach in Harvey for an hour a day. “Every time I stuttered, she would hit me with a ruler. I don’t stutter anymore unless I’m really nervous…. Sometimes it comes back,” she said.
Waldroup said her parents were functional illiterates. “My father had a fourth grade education. My mother has a six-grade education. They liked my voice. I read to them. I read newspapers, tax bills, books. My father told me I had a voice and that I needed to use it. That is why I am here today.
“These kids have voices. They need to use them. My voice got me into NBC 5,” she said.
As singer Maurice Mahon sang “I Am Somebody,” the children marched into the PUSH auditorium, and for the next five hours, each showcased their oratorical skills.
Judge Hill said students who win first place would receive $100, $75 for second place, and $50 for third place and $10 for honorable mention. The following are the winners of the competition:
LEVEL 1: Leilani Jenkins, 1st, Faith Jenkins, 2nd, Jaylen Durant, 3rd, Honorable Mentions – Trevon Woodford and Michael Washington.
LEVEL 2: Carleigh Lewis, 1st, Rutherford Simmons III, 2nd, Nelson Simmons, 3rd, Honorable Mentions – Nathias Clayton, Bradley Ross Jackson, Alicen Felder, James Hall, Nathaniel Clayton, Myia McCle- more and Kendall Lee.
LEVEL 3: Gabriel Gatheright, 1st, Rian Baker, 2nd, Aaliyah Elzy, 3rd, Honorable Mentions – Joshua Rey- nolds, Jeffrey Stewart, Melia Lewis, Jamariya Smith, Errianya Fields, Jaeda Walker-Anderson, Tyriana Ridgner, LaVonta Cobbs-Brown, Triniti Brown, Brittany Smith, Aniya Cook, Nikaya Thomas, John Stewart, Allen Duncan, Gary Langfield, Donovan Morgan, Shadee Ware, Damon Payton, Nia Moreira, Branden Vanzant, Lachard Reasnovor, Prince Reynolds, Andrew McClendon, Robert Turner, III, Adam Morrison, Jr., Semaj Fitzpatrick, Darius Kilgooe, Amir Jarrell, Tasje Jones, Jakharri Larry, Justin Brown and Anita Lattimore.
LEVEL 4: Gabrielle Gatheright, 1st, Zion Jenkins, 2nd, Rayvon Savary, 3rd, Honorable Mentions – Lebaron Scott, Morris McKay and Maximus North.
LEVEL 5: Ge’Yah Jones, 1st, David Haywood, 2nd and Edyth Young, 3rd.
Judge Hill said the oratory program, which began in Washington, D.C., has gone national with similar programs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Detroit, Michigan and Birmingham, Alabama.
Hill, who has held 21 competitions, said the national oratory competition would be held on June 15, at 1 p.m., during the 47th Rainbow PUSH Coalition convention at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 151 E. Wacker Drive.
Students will come from Washington, D.C., Louisiana, Detroit, Michigan and Virginia.