By Greg Gelpi
With a commanding voice, he proclaimed that skin color is not an excuse and not an obstacle.
Spoken like a veteran statesman, 17-year-old Cornelius Lindsey touted his accomplishments and ambitions as a senior at Riverdale High.
Determined to climb the ranks of the political world, Lindsey, dressed in his usual coat and tie, he filled the Clayton County Performing Arts Center with his words and imagery filled, winning the annual Hear Our Voices speech competition.
"I will make my voice louder than the halls of justice and sharper than the sword of sacrifice," Lindsey said in his speech. "I would like to challenge each of you to go out and help someone. Push yourself to the limit."
And his words aren't mere words. He puts his words into action.
Lindsey founded the Gentlemen of Quality at Riverdale High. GQ allows upperclassmen to tutor and mentor younger high school students. He is also the president of his school's Future Business Leaders of America, a member of mock trial and twice the president of his class.
He said "the one true inspiration" for his speech was civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
As Lindsey appeared to be a young politician in his professional attire, Ashley Calderon said she is judged by the way she dresses and appears as well.
The Mount Zion High School sophomore said during her speech that the hip-hop look is misjudged.
With a nose stud and cornrows, Calderon said society looks down on those who embrace the hip-hop culture as being illiterate and unintelligent.
"Look at me and tell me what you saw when you first laid eyes on me," she told the audience. "Just because I choose to present myself in a different way does not make me a juvenile delinquent with a fifth-grade education."
Breaking the perception of the hip-hop stereotype, Calderon proclaimed herself an honors student and student leader.
Hear Our Voices is an annual competition held by the Clayton County school system. Winners from county schools competed in categories for best speech, short story, poetry and essay.
Other speech winners were Khalil Milledge, a kindergartner at Anderson Elementary; Bria Matthews, a first-grader at Lake City Elementary; Thomas Fantroy, a second-grader at Anderson Elementary; Ashley Otey, a third-grader at Harper Elementary; Kelli Clemons, a fourth-grader at River's Edge Elementary; Melissa Morrow, a fifth-grader at River's Edge Elementary; Bryanna Pettus, a fifth-grader at Suder Elementary; Shanika Porter, a seventh-grader at Mundy's Mill Middle; and Vonche McLemore, a seventh-grader at North Clayton Middle.