King’s speech: Delaware students emulate MLK in spoken word contest

Neha Das won first prize in the MLK Voice 4 Youth contest for her speech challenging Euro-centric beauty standards entitled

Neha Das won first prize in the MLK Voice 4 Youth contest for her speech challenging Euro-centric beauty standards entitled "Pretty for a Brown Girl." (screengrab/Facebook)

The power of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words continues to resonate decades after his death. His call for justice and equality were echoed in Delaware by a new generation of young people finding a voice of their own.

That’s part of the mission behind Delaware’s MLK Voice 4 Youth contest, which has been held around MLK Day for the past five years. And although this year’s event was held virtually, the words spoken by the high school student contestants were nonetheless passionate in pursuit of change.

The contest provides an opportunity for students to find their own voice, maybe for the first time, said former contestant and 2020 judge Nana Ohemaa Asante.

“This contest literally changed my life,” she said. “It gave me a platform and an opportunity to speak my mind, and I just hope that more people are comfortable to attempt [to speak out], because as long as we try to speak we will be heard.”

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Ohemaa Asante is now a senior at the University of Delaware majoring in English at UD’s Honors College, as well as double minoring in Medical Diagnostics and Biology.

“As much as there are groups of people who feel like they’re running on hate or running on distrust, there’s a lot of people who are running on love, and a lot of people who are looking out for each other and making sure their voices are heard,” she said.

The student contestants were challenged to explore how King’s legacy has guided their response to today’s challenges.

In Deena Johnson’s speech, “Have You Seen the Other Side,” she posed a question to King. She asked what he saw on the other side of the mountaintop he referenced in the final speech he gave before he was assassinated.

“MLK, you said silence is betrayal, but here, noise can bring death. When we peacefully protest for human rights, we are thugs and we deserve to be punished, we get pushed, beaten, tear-gassed and arrested for walking the streets we built,” she said. “Just like you, Dr. King, we’re still waiting for our nightmare to turn into a dream, your nightmare to turn into a dream.”

Neha Das won $2,000 for her first place performance. She referenced King’s speech “The Other America” as she spoke on the Euro-centric beauty standards in her piece entitled “Pretty for a Brown Girl.”

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“This isn’t just about beauty. It’s about racism, classism, and a system that perpetuates a hierarchy based on the color of our skin,” she said. “I have a dream. A dream where little boys and girls can look down on their dark skin and feel proud. A dream where society sees dark skin as humanity, love, and compassion.”

“Your words have power. They can hurt and wound, but they can inspire and motivate,” said contest organizer Jane Rubini. “Your voice increases the power of your words exponentially.”

She encouraged all of the contestants to continue to speak up and use their voice to push for the changes they want to see in the world.

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