DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 90 years old this month, and if the great leader and activist were here today, he would likely be proud of the kids who competed in Dallas on Friday in the Foley Gardere MLK Jr. Oratory Competition.

The competition, in its 27th year, brings together 4th and 5th grade students from campuses in the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) to make speeches centered on a theme of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

The 2019 winner is Jasira King, a 4th grader from William Brown Miller Elementary School in Dallas. All of the finalists wrote original speeches about what Dr. King would say to the children of today’s world.

Tory Robertson Jr., a Clara Oliver Elementary School student, came in second in the competition. “I think that Dr. King would say for us to do what we can to get a good education and that education is the key to success,” the 5th grader said when he stopped by the CBS 11 newsroom on Monday.

The eight finalists, who made it to the stage the week before the holiday in January, speak clearly and with confidence, channeling one of the greatest orators in American history.

While Tory said he wasn’t nervous, he did center himself by thinking, “Be calm. It’s gonna be alright. This is your first time doing it, but you’ve made it this far.”

The competition is the cornerstone project put on by the law firm each year, established by the late Donald McCleary in 1993.

“If you’re going to stand up in front of your classmates, and give a speech on Dr. King, you’re really going to have to learn the message. You’re going to have to learn his teachings and really do it,” says Michael Newman, the Office Managing Partner at Foley Gardere.

What began with a few participants now includes more than 100 aspiring – and inspiring – young public speakers from across the city.

“It not only gave kids the opportunity to learn about Dr. King, to learn about the civil rights movement, but also to hone a very important skillset,” says Newman, of the challenges of public speaking.

Newman says to his knowledge, there is really no other competition like this one, which celebrates Dr. King and his legacy.

Like the man they honor, the students on stage lead by example.

For Newman the experience is very gratifying. “You can’t help but walk out of this auditorium feeling really good about the kids, and really optimistic about the future of our nation.”

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” – Martin Luther King Jr.