More than 70 area students participated in the oration competition at the 33rd Annual Black Heritage Festival sponsored by the Anniston Museum of Natural History.
“We discover diamonds. We give children a chance to express themselves,” festival coordinator Georgia Calhoun told the audience Saturday morning.
The students, ranging from pre-kindergarten to high school seniors, practiced for weeks and months to memorize poems and other pieces written by black authors and perfect their deliveries.
“It took me about a week to get it,” said J’Lynn Kirksey, 7, who recited “Go to the Back, Rosa Parks” for the competition.
“Once I got it, I kept practicing,” she added, saying her mother helped her work on her emphasis.
Rhys and Dunyea Dorsey, brothers age 5 and 7, respectively, worked on their presentations for about two months before Saturday’s competition.
Rhys said the poem he recited — “My Beautiful Black People” — was strong and powerful, something he said was important for the Black Heritage Festival.
“They want to be beautiful, powerful people…and it feels like they’re fighting for their selves,” he said.
“It’s strong what we’re talking about,” added Dunyea, who recited “Black Statistic” in his first try at the competition, “that the black man doesn’t want to be a black statistic doing bad things.”
Eriyanna Arnold, a fifth-grader at Randolph Park Elementary School, recited an original composition, a poem called “Dreams.”
She said she was inspired to write the poem after hearing about a conversation in which her sister was told some dreams don’t come true.
“Well, some dreams do come true,” Eriyanna said. “You just got to believe in yourself.”
“These children have spoken from their hearts,” Calhoun told the audience as judges tallied the students’ scores.
Calhoun first organized the event three decades ago. In addition to the competition, the festival also included musical performances and vendors of African-inspired wares.
When she first organized the event, Calhoun served as the only black person on the museum’s board of directors and was frustrated by a lack of black families visiting the museum.
“I used this as a vehicle to get black people involved,” she said. “Being an educator, I knew if you could get the children, you could get the parents.”
Kamika King has been coming to the festival for more than two decades.
King, 37, was drawn to the festival when she was about 14 years old after encouragement from Calhoun, who worked with her church’s youth at the time. Too shy to compete herself, she watched her classmates’ performances. These days, her children compete.
“Even before I was a mom, it’s just some way to learn,” she said. “To just learn about your history and to see the up-and-coming stars of tomorrow in the community.”
Over the years, Calhoun has seen the event grow and loves to see the talent displayed by the community’s young people.
“You see your future,” she said. “You can see future teachers, future ministers, future doctors, you could just look today and see all the future that you needed to see.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
Oration competition winners Groups
1st Constantine Elementary — Tazoria Hester and Karese Nolan
2nd Constantine Elementary — Taleyah Palmore, Shoshona White, Ariena Hatcher and Kamesha Redick
3rd 10th Street Elementary — India Hughley and Kenya Hughley
1st Rhys Dorsey
2nd Rianna Sinclair
3rd Chloe Buchanan
Second grade-fifth grade
1st – Eriyanna Arnold
2nd – Mikayla Osborne
3rd – J’Lynn Kirksey
Sixth grade-eighth grade
1st Madison Wilson
2nd Kobe Dickerson
3rd Timaury Haynes
Ninth grade-12th grade
1st Jakelli Elson
2nd Jaliyah Kelley
3rd Brittany Gordon