The speech topic for the 29th annual Dallas ISD MLK Jr. Oratory Competition arrived at a critical point in our nation’s history. The question posed to students: “how do you think Dr. King’s teachings can help us today?”

Thousands of fourth and fifth graders in classrooms across the community pondered this question during the last couple months and a select few brave souls stepped to the stage Friday morning to deliver their answers.

“I would like to talk about not solving problems with violence,” said Gregory Anderson, a fifth-grader at Urban Park Elementary School. “Dr. King said ‘returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.’”

The annual MLK Oratory Competition was designed by Foley & Lardner to recognize and encourage the writing and oratory skills of elementary students. In addition, it serves as a celebration of cultural diversity and opportunity to spotlight talented Dallas ISD students as they learn about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This year’s panel of judges included Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall, who returned as a judge for the second year in a row. Other judges included former Dallas Cowboy and NFL great, DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Stars legend and Olympian, Marty Turco and well-known community leader, Michelle Silverthorn. Local broadcasting legend, Clarice Tinsley, served as the master of ceremonies.

Some of the brightest and smallest stars in our community didn’t seem fazed by the celebrity judges that joined the event virtually on giant screens behind them.

The youths’ answers were, quite simply, profound and inspiring.

“I believe I can achieve every aspiration birthed inside of me,” exclaimed Cortlin Harbert, a fourth-grade student at Marsalis Elementary. “My ancestors have not sat, marched and run so that I can be killed by a gun in the hands of those who have sworn to protect me. When I look at me, I see my parent’s only son. I see the hopes and dreams of my loved ones. I will not stop until my race is won. Because I, too, dream just like Dr. Martin Luther King.”

A total of eight student finalists took the stage and delivered their speeches with confidence and poise.

Harry C. Withers fifth-grader, Dominic Patermo, was crowned the champion of this year’s event and took home a $2K prize. It was a victorious moment for Patermo after he finished as the runner-up in last year’s competition. Zoe Frazier took home second place and Dinastee McKinney was the third-place winner.

All the student finalists received a plethora of prizes ranging from monetary gifts to Dallas Mavericks swag to custom awards and plaques.

“I would first like to thank (all the students) for the investment they’ve made and the time they’ve put into today,” Marshall told the youth as she was introduced. “Enjoy this particular leg of the journey. You’ve done a lot to get here. You are prepared…so enjoy the leg of the journey and appreciate, really appreciate, how you are contributing to the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Friday’s competition kicks off a long list of events the Dallas Mavericks and NBA will participate in throughout the weekend to honor the extraordinary life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The mission of Dr. King is one that the Mavs try to carry everyday both on and off the court. Some of the events include:

Jan 15-18 – Tonight through January 18, Mavs players will join the NBA family and wear custom Nike MLK Day warm-up t-shirts designed in collaboration with the NBPA, MLK Foundation and Martin Luther King III.

Throughout the weekend, all 30 NBA teams will honor Dr. King’s fight for justice and examine the history and impact of inequality in America. Please visit for additional information on team and league celebrations, action, service and conversations. Use the hashtags #NBAonMLK #MLKDay to search for coverage.


Coming Soon – Mavs Take Action Scholarship Announcement – The Mavs will announce the five recipients of the Mavs Take Action Scholarship. Five African American high school seniors from local DFW schools will receive a $25,000 scholarship for college. Every student awarded this scholarship has shown their commitment to education and continuous passion for pursuing success to the highest level. This scholarship can be applied to community college or a university that is either in or out of state. Applicants from the 2020 – 2021 year were received from local community partners including: Café Momentum, Girls Inc. Dallas, Education is Freedom, For Oak Cliff, Young Women’s Preparatory Network and Big Thought.

Jan. 16 – City of Mesquite MLK Celebration Participation – Dallas Mavericks CEO, Cynt Marshall will be recording special remarks for the City of Mesquite and Mesquite NAACP, for their virtual broadcasted MLK Celebration. The celebration will have area VIPs share thoughts on MLK Jr.’s legacy and impacts on Dr. King’s work in our society today.

Jan. 16 – OneAccord: A Black Community Reconciliation Event and PPE Donation- Community panelists will discuss Black advancement in North Texas, and solutions that will move us towards independence, success and competitiveness. It is time to move past the conversation and move toward action. The Mavericks will be providing 2,000 adult masks and 2,000 1oz Hand Sanitizers for panelists and organizations participating to distribute throughout the community.

Jan. 18 – Dallas Dinner Table (DDT) – The Mavericks are partnering with Dallas Dinner Table, a nonprofit organization that champions listening, self-reflection, and sharing diverse perspectives over the course of dinner. Members of Mavs Black Employee Network, Employee Resource Group and all staff members have the opportunity to volunteer as facilitators of conversations during the dinner.

Jan. 18 – Dallas Mavericks (Away) vs. Toronto Raptors @ 6:30 PM In Game Activations: Drop Ins via Fox Sports Southwest (FSSW) regarding the Dallas Mavericks activations surrounding MLK Day, Mavericks players wearing MLK Day shooting shirts.

Jan. 18 – (MLK Day)
Providing paid time-off for Mavs employees to serve the community on MLK day.

MLK Day Jr. NBA Hoop Camp – The Dallas Mavericks, Mavs Academy will be hosting a free virtual hoop camp for students. Organizations like the Greater Dallas Boys and Girls Club will be invited to join as well, for a virtual and socially distanced camp.

Jan. 23 – MLK Scholarship & Awards Gala Mavs CEO, Cynt Marshall, will be serving as a Keynote Speaker for the Scholarship and Awards Gala. During this event the Mavericks will also highlight the Mavs Scholarship announcement and the students that received the Mavs Take Action Scholarships the week before.


  • As part of the MLK weekend, the league will host an NBA Virtual Roundtable to discuss Dr. King’s vision for racial equality and the modern movement for social justice. The conversation will explore ways that people of all backgrounds can create meaningful change in their own lives and communities. The 40-minute discussion will stream live on the @NBA Twitter account on Monday, Jan. 18 at 10 a.m. CT.
  • Earlier in the week, the NBA unveiled “We Must Learn,” a new spot that encourages all to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life by continuing his legacy. The words of Dr. King are exemplified through the imagery of people of all backgrounds coming together on the basketball court. Mavs owner Mark Cuban and three-year NBA superstar Luka Dončić appears in the campaign along with Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, and other members of the NBA family.

The events will all breathe new life into Dr. King’s legacy and message.

Monday not only honors Dr. King, but it also is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service. It is “a day on, not a day off,” when we are called to dedicate time to making our communities stronger and to reflecting on the work that still needs to be done for racial equality.

“There are three things that Dr. King taught people during his lifetime that can we can still use today to help us become better citizens,” elementary student Gregory Anderson shared in his oratory speech. “Those three things are be kind to others, don’t solve problems with violence and don’t judge people by the color of their skin.”

It’s a reminder — and message — that is, perhaps, more important than ever as we come together in harmony and continue on in the pursuit of justice for all.

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