By: Abby Zeugner
HIGH POINT — The High Point University Community Center was filled with hundreds of people early Monday morning, there to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and hear four high school seniors deliver speeches for a scholarship competition.
The students were what the Rev. Frank Thomas of Mt. Zion Baptist Church called “extraordinary young people.”
“In (these contestants) we see our future,” said Angela Roach-Roberson, who delivered the event’s opening prayer. “We know that if we are to live together, we’re to do it as brothers and sisters.”
The speakers were competing for a potential $5,000 scholarship from the Ministers Conference of High Point and Vicinity, supported by ticket proceeds and sponsorships from High Point organizations.
The students used their platforms to speak about the plight of African-Americans during King’s time as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and in modern day.
“Many have said the country has come a long way, but for black people, life hasn’t been no crystal stair,” said Amani Baldwin, quoting Langston Hughes’s 1922 poem, “Mother to Son.”
“Despite the steps we have taken, there is still a lot left,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin, a senior at Weaver Academy for Performing and Visual Arts, pointed to segregated educational systems and gun violence as two of the things holding black communities back.
“The boards of the staircase have been torn up by the gun violence that runs rampant in our community,” she said.
Violence was a common theme across all four speeches, from issues of police brutality and racial profiling to gang violence.
Piedmont Classical High School senior Jowan Williams focused on hate being a leading cause of the violence.
“Look at what we’re doing to hurt each other,” Williams said. “Rapes, robberies, assaults, drive-bys.”
Qori Siler from Southern Guilford High School focused almost exclusively on violence, and she credited much of it to a division of society into black and white.
“Life as we know it has become divided,” Siler said. “How do we remain faithful and in belief when we still have people who put us down?”
JaQuez Boyd from Kearns Academy spoke more like a preacher than a teenager.
“Do you talk King or do you do King?” he asked the audience. “We walk around declaring that we stand for what Dr. King fought for, but when it’s time for us to do the things that King did, we oftentimes back down and become afraid.”
By the end of each speech, the speakers spoke of forgiveness, togetherness, cooperation and carrying on.
“We cannot become complacent in our current positions,” Baldwin said. “We must continue to climb that staircase despite the tacks and the splinters.”
Monday night, during a worship service at Williams Memorial CME Church, the contest winners were announced.
Boyd won first place and $5,000. Williams won second and $3,500 and Baldwin won third and $1,500.
At the service, the committee for the Commemoration of 400 Years of African-American History announced that they would additionally grant the fourth place winner, Siler, a $1,000 prize.
“We hear often about the state of our community and the state of our nation,” Thomas said to the crowd after each teen had spoken. “Some people feel like the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But after hearing what I’ve heard today from these young people I believe that our future is bright.”
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