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Students Compete in Gardere’s Annual Contests in Dallas, Austin, Houston

DALLAS/AUSTIN/HOUSTON – Nearly 40 years after his death, the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. continues to resonate with the youth of today. Inspired by his legacy, elementary school students in three Texas cities competed this week in the annual Gardere Martin Luther King Jr. Oratory Competitions.

More than 280 students, representing a total of 20 schools in Dallas, Austin and Houston, competed in preliminary contests over the past month for the right to represent their schools. The annual events are hosted by the law firm of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP.

“During Dr. King’s life, the cultural and educational landscapes were far different from any that these students will ever have to know,” says Steve Good, Gardere’s managing partner. “He dedicated, and ultimately sacrificed, his life to assure better lives for future generations. Through events such as this, Gardere is proud to help make sure Dr. King’s efforts are never forgotten, and at the same time place a spotlight on some of the brightest, most talented elementary school students in Texas.”

On Jan. 16, Dalton Sherman, a fourth grader at Charles Rice Learning Center, took top honors in the 16th annual Dallas competition. Drawing from Dr. King’s “Drum Major Instinct” speech, the 9-year-old stirred the crowd, speaking of the need for not only strong leaders, but also for the community to pull together: “We have to all do this together. Because a drum major with no band is just a fool dancing on a football field.”

The winner of the 3rd annual Austin competition, also held Jan. 16, was Kendal Travis, a fifth grader at Campbell Elementary School. The 11-year-old spoke confidently about how Dr. King has inspired him to want to go to college and be a professional football player. “I want to be a running back for the Dallas Cowboys and my two heroes are Dr. King and Earl Campbell,” he said.

At the 12th annual Houston event on Jan. 18, Perri Jones, a fourth grader from Julius Dodson Elementary School, dazzled the audience with a speech that had her hosting her own talk show. Her “guest” was a girl whose forefathers were slaves, but was spared from sitting in the back of the bus and drinking only from specific water fountains thanks to Dr. King’s efforts. She proclaimed to the cheering audience that she can “rise” to be anything – “Secretary of State, President of the USA or even a talk show host like Oprah.”

“Gardere celebrates Dr. King’s legacy in a unique way,” says Claude Treece, Houston event coordinator and partner at Gardere. “Our goal is to promote diversity and inspire students to share their dreams with fellow students, as well as the community.”

Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students from participating schools presented personally written speeches commemorating Dr. King’s vision of peace and unity. The young speakers were judged on the content of their speech, memorization and overall performance. All finalists receive savings bonds and other prizes.

Gardere introduced the competition 16 years ago in Dallas to celebrate the city’s diversity and promote awareness and understanding of different cultures. The event’s success led to the establishment of the competition in Houston in 1997 and Austin in 2006. The oratory competition, which is held in conjunction with the national holiday recognizing the late civil rights leader, encourages the local community to remember and pay tribute to Dr. King’s leadership and legacy.

Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, an AmLaw 200 firm, was founded in 1909 and is one of the Southwest’s largest full-service law firms. With offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and Mexico City, Gardere provides legal services to private and public companies and individuals in areas of energy, litigation, corporate, tax, environmental, labor and employment, intellectual property and financial services.

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