The spoken word has often be used in African-American culture to articulate the struggles, victories, stories and its icons and D.C. youth had the chance to talk about a revered Black politician in those ways in an oratorical format on Feb. 28 at the University of the District of Columbia in Northwest.
When two students spoke about the legacy of Marion Barry, who served the residents of the District of Columbia as its mayor, council member and board of education president in the second annual Marion Barry Jr. Youth Oratorical Contest, they remembered him within the context of this year’s theme for Black History Month — “the Black Migration.”
Linda Wharton Boyd, former director of communications for Barry and chair of the Sankofa Archive Commission, which seeks to remember and document Barry’s life and activities, talked about the appropriateness of the topic, “The Migration Journey of Marion Barry Jr.”
“We want to provide our young people the chance to learn and explore Marion Barry and his passion for youth,” Boyd said. “Barry was a supporter of UDC and he was an out of the box thinker and a builder of people and a builder of character.”
Forty-two young people submitted essays on the topic and 10 of the best got the chance to participate in the oratory contest. The participants took classes on how to write winning essays for the event.
Nathnael Haile and Kaliah Smith read their essays to an audience of 15 and showed their passion for Barry during their presentations.
Nathnael talked about Barry’s work in politics in the District and how he inspired people to do their best despite adversity, while Kaliah orated on Barry’s humble beginnings in Itta Bena, Miss., and how he rose to become the mayor of the nation’s capital.
Returning citizens activist and talk show host Roach Brown served as a judge along with Alisa Hughley and Dr. Kim Green. Nathnael won first place and Kaliah took second. The other eight contestants, for various reasons, didn’t participate.
District entrepreneur Rosalind Styles, who owns the Capitol City Associates consulting firm, gave the contestants $300 for their efforts and Boyd told the audience that the two will read their essays at the opening of the Anacostia Busboys & Poets this month.
While the judges worked tallied the scores, Brown, Kemry Hughes, Raymone Bain, Styles and Boyd talked about how much Barry influenced their lives.
“He gave me a chance,” Styles said. “Before I met Marion Barry, I had never traveled west of the Anacostia River and because of him, I have traveled the world.”