Dixon Elementary student wins Chicago’s first MLK Jr. oratory competition

Mia Roberts was one of 13 fourth- and fifth-graders from Chicago Public Schools who competed in the event Friday.

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Mia Roberts, 9, a student from Arthur Dixon Elementary, speaks to the audience Friday during a Martin Luther King Jr. oratory competition at The Palmer House Hotel.

Mia Roberts, 9, a student from Arthur Dixon Elementary, speaks to the audience Friday during a Martin Luther King Jr. oratory competition at The Palmer House Hotel.

Santiago Covarrubias/For The Sun-Times

“I ask you today, are all men created equal? If the answer is yes, then I ask, are all men treated equally?” 9-year-old Mia Roberts said.

With those words, Mia, a student at Dixon Elementary School, won first place in Chicago’s first MLK Jr. oratory competition.

Mia was one of the 13 fourth- and fifth-graders from Chicago Public Schools who qualified for the finals, answering the question: “What would Dr. King’s vision be for America in 2020?”

“Everybody has to know that he was a good man,” Mia said about the inspiration for her speech. “He was a hero, not like any other hero in movies. He was an actual, real hero.”

Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of kindness and equality was the foundation for each student’s speech. Second-place winner Malcolm Rush, 10, also from Dixon Elementary, said King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is what motivated him to join the competition.

Each student had three to five minutes to answer the complex question, touching on current social issues such as police brutality, lack of funding for schools, food deserts and racism in the city and nation.

The competition, hosted by Foley and Lardner law firm, was held at the Palmer House Hotel.

“I’m looking to see how well the students have prepared, how focused they are on their topic and what kind of strength and energy they bring to their comments,” Zaldwaynaka Scott, president of Chicago State University and one of four judges, said before the competition.

“MLK is a personal hero of mine,” Scott said. “To hear that his voice and dream and ideas will live on in our young people is exciting.”

The students were joined by Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) and state Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, who was supporting the 13 students from his district.

“My heart is full,” Sims said after the competition. “The kids told us all the things that they want us to focus on as the adults. ... I think it’s our job to listen to them and go out and put policies in place that address the issues that they brought up.”

The competition was first hosted by Gardere Wynne Sewell Law Firm in Texas over 20 years ago. After combining with Foley and Lardner, the event meant to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and the nation’s next generation of leaders was brought to Chicago. The firm plans to host the event annually.

As for what Roberts will do with her $1,000 prize money?

“I’m going to probably buy the iPhone 11 and probably give some to the poor,” Mia said.

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