PALMETTO -- Southeast High School ninth-grader Dakota Lawson seemed to stare off in the distance as she waited her turn to speak Thursday night in the Eddie Shannon Field House at Palmetto Youth Center.
Her lips moved as if to recite words, but no sound came out. She was practicing and she wasn’t alone.
Dakota and about 20 other students shared their views about the legacy of a man who spoke out about equality for all -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But this wasn’t the average school assignment. It was the 10th annual King Essay and Speech Contest in Manatee County.
Twenty-seven students were essay finalists, chosen out of more than 200 entries to share their vision. Using the example King made on the world, the students were to relay in their essay what they could do to make a difference in the community.
Little Madelyn Kumar didn’t seem nervous at all. She walked with her effervescent bounce up the six steps to the lectern. The American flag was fixed beyond her head as she explained what her parents and her studies taught her about King.
“Dr. King’s words have inspired me to ask myself: What am I doing for others,” Madelyn said as her high energy and booming voice reached out to the 70 listeners.
“Although currently, I don’t have any grand plans for the community, I do hope to lead by example -- aspire to live as Dr. King preached, spread his wisdom and be part of the solution.”
Madelyn, a Nolan Middle School sixth-grader, won a grand prize of $150 and a Dell laptop computer.
The grand prize winner for the high school division was Dakota.
She told the group, “Everyone and everything on this planet are connected no matter race, religion, fame or fortune. You matter. What you do everyday, the choices you make, the way you interact with other people, it all matters. It can change the world.”
Other middle school winners: Dalisha Floyd, second place, $100 prize; Sidney Price, third place, $75; and Maleesa Moore, honorable mention, $50.
The other middle school finalists were Sofia Atzrodt, Amy Cortese, Sarah Cox, Hannah Figueras, Davis Fulghum, Chloe Gingerich, Breanna Thomas and Kendall Vedder.
Other high school winners: Destiny Weeks, second place, $100; Charles Fulghum, third place, $75; and Mackenzie Yaryura, honorable mention, $50.
The other high school finalists were Desmond Brown, Jackie Deame, Ayah Etyem, Eugene Helfrick, Hannah Holmes, Wendy Liu, Coral Nimz, Sage Norrie, Andrew Vasquez, Cayla Wirtzberger and Zachary Zofrea.
“There was a lot of competition out there,” said organizer Patricia Johnson. “So congratulations to all the finalists.”
The event was sponsored by the Palmetto Youth Center; The Bradenton Herald; Bealls; Tillis Tutoring Center; attorneys Blalock, Walters, Held & Johnson; and Christopher Smith Leonard Accountants.