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Youth take center stage at 37th Annual Theodore Gibson Oratorical Contest

caines | 6/20/2013, 10:47 a.m.

[gallery link="file" orderby="title"] The children were as young as six and as old as 18 public school students in kindergarden, seniors in high school and all grades in between. Each of the students was sharply dressed, well poised and had a message to share memorized of course. And so it was that the finalists took to the stage last week at Miami Dade College, North Campus, for the 37th Annual Theodore Gibson Oratorical Contest. This writer served as one of the judges and can attest to the fact that Miami-Dade County Public Schools [M-DCPS] has some extremely talented public speakers. The beginnings of the contest can be traced back to 1976 when Dr. Dorothy J. Fields, founder/director of the Black Archives, approached Nancy Dawkins, a public school teacher [and the wife of former City Commissioner Miller Dawkins] about organizing and coordinating the guidelines for an oratorical and declamation event. A lot of practical experience comes from learning the rubrics of public speaking and memorization, Nancy Dawkins said. In the Black community, our children traditionally give recitations during Easter and Christmas programs but rarely anywhere else. We wanted to change that. The first contest was held Dec. 14, 1977 at Booker T. Washington High School with the support of faculty serving as mentors: Marian H. Shannon, Thomas Wright, Evelyn S. Wynn and Clarence Brown. Its been an annual event ever since. After the first students participated in the first awards ceremony in February 1977, the Rev. Canon Theodore Gibson, city commissioner, recommended that all elementary participants be given an award for their participation. And with his assistance, a more financially-secure project was outlined for the future. His statement became the motto of the project: Help the Children Learn to Communicate . . . That is the Key.

Four hundred kids start all considered winners

Dr. Sherrilyn Scott, supervisor for the Department of Social Sciences, M-DCPS, now follows in the footsteps of her mentor, Nancy Dawkins. She says that the competition continues to improve and grow. In fact, with the financial support of the College and its president, Dr. Jose Vicente, all of the expenses for the program are now completed covered. The finals showed the community the cream of the crop,but this is a year-long program and we have teacher/mentors and parents to thank for that, Scott said. We began with almost 400 students and they practice all year. The high school participants must write their own piece, tying nicely into our common core standards and the development of critical thinking skills. Its like Fr. Gibson is still alive we see his vision realized. Many of our children go on from this contest to become actors, lawyers, college professors, teachers, you name it, Dawkins said. And its all because someone told them that there was value in learning the skills of public speaking. Someone took time and developed young minds. This is what this contest has always been about. Winners this year, first, second and third place, respectively, included: Dantorria Wilson, Jamir Morris and Brandon Martinez [K-2]; Kira King, Briell Robinson and Michael Clark [3-5]; Sylvie Francois, Humberto Mendez and Gerbin Seraphin [6-8] and Andis Uptgrow, Tiandre Bellinger and Steffon Dixon [9-12]. It should be noted that the first place winner for the senior high school division, Andis, is just a freshman. The name of her piece was Broken Hearts. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com