The Virginia Tech Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oration Competition honors King’s legacy by inviting students who love justice, advocacy, and performance to deliver memorized speeches inspired by one of four Martin Luther King Jr. quotations.

Corey Miles, a graduate student in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and a winner of the inaugural competition that took place in January 2018, said he applied to be a participant because of his love for King’s legacy. “As an Africana studies Ph.D. candidate, I have always valued the way black people have used oral traditions to create community solidarity and activism,” he said.

His speech was inspired by cases of police brutality toward black people. “I wanted to highlight the contradiction of a society that claims it does not see color but disproportionately kills black children through police violence, white-centered schools, and poverty,” he said. “I wanted to argue that not seeing color is a way for white Americans to not have to see how they aid in the perpetuation of racism.”

A student smiles, looking past the camera, standing in front of a gray backdrop in a well-lit photo studio wearing a t-shirt that reads, "black, boujee, and educated."
Yeabsera Bogale, a senior studying political science and philosophy, politics, and economics in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

Another 2018 winner, Yeabsera Bogale, a senior double majoring in political science and philosophy, politics, and economics in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, said her love for performing and interest in emphasizing equity issues, policy issues, and economic and medical hardships motivated her to compete.

“I have always said that history does not repeat, but it does rhyme, and that is exactly what I wanted to show through my piece,” she said. “Economic hardship is something I am all too familiar with, and I know I am not the only one. I knew that what I had to say is something that many of us can relate to, and being able to reach others through my work is truly a passion of mine.”

A student is pictured from the shoulders up, smiling at the camera while standing in front of a gray backdrop in a well-lit photo studio.
Richard Randolph, a senior double majoring in building construction and real estate in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies

For Richard Randolph, who joined Miles and Bogale as a winner of the 2018 competition, it was the encouragement of Kimberly Williams, director of the Black Cultural Center, along with a love for public speaking and spoken word that motivated him to apply.

“What inspired my speech was my drive to see change happen at Virginia Tech,” said the senior, who is double majoring in building construction and real estate in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. “I think as Hokies, we can dive so much deeper to reach a new level of inclusivity at our school. I really wanted to write from my heart and be as genuine as possible while making a point at the same time — a point that may upset a few people, but at least I tried to act with courage and say it.”

Sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students are encouraged to apply for the competition by submitting a 3- to 5-minute oration video in which they deliver a memorized speech. The use of two notecards is permitted for guidance and reference. Submissions close at 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 25 and will be judged by MLK Oration Competition Committee members.

Finalists will present their speeches at the 2nd annual MLK Oration Competition on Jan. 24, 2019, at 7 p.m. in the Cube in the Moss Arts Center. Faculty, staff, and alumni judges will select first place, second place, and honorable mention winners for each academic year category. First place winners will be awarded $500; second place winners will be awarded $250; and honorable mentions will be awarded $150.

More information is available on the Cultural and Community Centers webpage.

Photos by Christina Franusich

Written by Tiffany Woodall