There’s no small pressure in entering a contest named after an extraordinary orator. For her debut attempt at speechwriting, Kayla Little entered MIFA’s 2013 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Teen Oratorical Contest. At school, she often impressed others with her serene spirit.
Now, she aimed to write boldly and dream of freedom from oppression. For the 16-year-old, it was quite a game changer.
For this year’s contest, 60 entrants spoke on bullying in the context of King’s quote: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The contest was established in 2007 to encourage teens to write, to engage in friendly competition, and to work with mentors who guide them through the revision process.
As she drafted her speech, the Cordova High School junior confronted another challenge: how to educate and inspire an audience in only two minutes. A lesser dreamer might have given up the march.
Then she recalled a classmate who turned to homeschooling to escape bullying and described the girl’s isolation. “Bullying can make you feel as though your existence in society is no longer important,” she says.
Like Dr. King, Kayla was influenced by parents and grandparents who were activists. Her father, Perry, is a minister and chaplain, and her grandparents passed on stories of their participation in the civil rights movement. “That’s personal testimony. A first-hand story hits home. It isn’t something that you just read about — it happened in your community.”
Working with speech coach Zena Bailey, Kayla whittled her ideas to fine points. In the end, the work paid off. Her winning speech celebrates the power of compassion. “Speak up! Be a leader! Make a path for your peers so that they may follow your example and do something good in the community.”
In April, Kayla delivered her speech at MIFA’s annual Day of Reflection and Service, a public event honoring MIFA’s volunteers and supporters. Her musical talents were also showcased as she played a violin solo with the 25-piece Cordova High School Orchestra. Listening proudly were parents Perry and Doris, older sister Kristen, aunts, and great-aunts. The teen will save the $700 prize for college expenses.
The contest is open to tenth-, eleventh-, and twelfth-graders who participate in the MIFA’s COOL (College Offers Opportunities for Life) program. COOL became a valued part of Kayla’s life two years ago. The college readiness and life/academic preparedness program provides students with higher education counseling, mentoring, life skills, ACT preparation, and assistance with the college admissions process. “COOL is probably the best decision a high school student could make,” she says. “It gives you insight into what college life is about and what people will expect from you.”
Meanwhile, she preps for the ACT, practices Spanish and German, and looks forward to traveling internationally. I suggest that her multilingual skills may someday afford her opportunities to speak far from home. “I’m hoping for that,” she says.
Has she imagined what Dr. King was like as a teen? She says that he was probably like many others, going through the motions and not asking many questions. Then one day, he stopped and asked himself, “What’s really going on?” When Kayla delivered her speech at MIFA’s event, she urged others to explore the same question for themselves. That, she says, is the first step.
THE REAL SCOOP
LEADERSHIP ROLE: Kayla is president of the German ClubFAVORITE SINGER: PharrellCOLLEGE MAJOR: International marketing or business