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Cultural voices at speaking competition
Students highlight heritage, role models, languages

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Doria Minter clutched an 8 x10 picture of her great-grandmother, Bertha H. Morrow, over her heart Thursday after the youngster's name was called by the emcee at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center.

Minter, a fourth-grader at Roberta T. Smith Elementary School, stood up and quickly strolled to the steps leading from the audience to the stage at the auditorium. As the youth walked across the stage, she stopped at a table and set up her "Gran-Gran's" picture, so it faced everyone in the audience.

Minter then walked two-feet to a microphone stand, and she told the parents, administrators, teachers and students about the lessons her late great-grandmother taught her about life.

"Gran-Gran saw many new things invented and placed into motion," Minter said. "In her childhood days, cars and televisions were a luxury, and only rich people owned them. Gran-Gran would always say 'just keep living,' which meant you, too, will see many things come to pass, if you simply 'just keep living.'"

Minter was one of 36 students who participated in the school system's annual "Hear Our Voices" competition. Forty students were originally signed up to participate in the speaking portion of the competition, but not all were present when time came to give their speeches.

The competition also includes a writing portion, which drew more than 200 entries from students at all grade levels. "Hear Our Voices" is designed to help pupils focus on improving their writing and public speaking skills.

Featuring parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents, was a common thread among the students giving speeches. Teunae Perry, an eighth-grader at Mundy's Mill Middle School, talked about her great-grandmother's involvement in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950's and 60's, in Dothan, Ala.

"One time, she (Pearlean Sellers Jackson) drank from a "Whites Only" water fountain, because she wanted to know if the water tasted different from the water in the "Blacks Only" water fountain," Perry said. "She bought her grandchildren ice cream cones from the "Whites Only" drug store, because they wanted ice cream cones. My great-grandmother Jackson was a strong woman, who was afraid of no one."

Some students focused on their multicultural backgrounds. Jared Reese, a kindergartner at River's Edge Elementary School, frequently switched between English and Spanish as he discussed having parents from two ethnic backgrounds. "My family is special, because we have two different cultures," Reese said. "We are African American from my daddy's side, because he was born in Alabama. Somos Latinos por parte de mi mama. She was born in Colombia, South America ... Daddy reads for us in English, y mi mama nos lee en Español," he said.

Alexis Warren, a seventh-grader at Rex Mill Middle School, talked about the prejudices she faces as a girl whose mother is white, and father is black. "Some believe people from two different races should not mix," Warren said. "To this day, I am baffled by why people think this way ... I am interracial, and I have the same hopes and dreams that you have."

A few students, like Nana Amoah, an eighth-grader from North Clayton Middle School, talked about the places of their birth. Amoah was born in Tema, Ghana, and she wore traditional clothing from her native country, and played an African drum during her presentation. "I wanted them to learn about Ghana," said Amoah. "There are so many things to do there, and it's just a great place."

Shonda Shaw, the school system's coordinator for secondary Language Arts, said the district will contact schools Monday to announce the winners of the competition. The district's communications department will set up a time afterward to have the winning students perform their presentations again for studio cameras.

The performances will be aired on Comcast Channel 24, the district's local access channel, throughout February.

The winners will also be the guests of honor at a reception in April. During the reception, the students will receive booklets, which include their photos, speeches, writing assignments, and certificates noting their accomplishment.