MLK day speech CONTEST

live event!

JANUARY 18, 2021

"Be the best of whatever you are."

The Contest



Welcome to the 2021 Martin Luther King Day Speech Contest!  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired a nation to advocate for change in part through his compelling and visionary public speeches. Today, more than ever, we need to continue to follow in his footsteps and use our voices to unite and move our communities forward.

The Thomas and Woods Foundation will be honoring Dr. King once again by hosting the Third Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Speech Contest. This annual event empowers high school students to write and perform their very own speeches before a live panel of judges.  This year we are giving out a total of $3,500 in scholarships to our top three speakers!

Join our live event on Monday, January 18 from 6-8 pm! RSVP here.

2021 Theme

Building Resilience in 2020: How has the resilience you’ve built in 2020 prepared you for the future?

Details for High School Students:  Sign up is closed, but see you next year!

  • Benefits: Connect with potential mentors, refine your writing, gain experience with public speaking, have the honor of performing before local officials and businesspeople, and have much better odds of winning than other scholarships.

  • Open to juniors and seniors who live in Philadelphia County or attend a school based Philadelphia County.

  • Write a 5 minute speech (about 750 words) about the theme above.  "Resilience" means the ability to bounce back or to adapt when faced with a challenge.

  • Virtual coaching will be given at three sessions via Zoom.  See dates below.  You can schedule a separate session with your coach if you cannot make a schedule session.

  • First place scholarship is $2,000, second place is $1,000 and third place is $500.  Scholarship money can be used for college, trade school, training or other educational expenses after high school.  Scholarship money will be dispersed upon proof of enrollment.

  • Perform virtually live for judges and an audience on Jan. 18.

  • Coaching and event are strictly virtual!


For questions, email

Details for Coaches:  Sign up is closed, but see you next year!


  • Volunteer to help high school students write and prepare speeches about building resilience in 2020.

  • Commitment is 3 coaching sessions with your student(s) and the final event on Jan. 18.  See dates below.  Sessions will be held via Zoom. You may facilitate coaching sessions on your own if you cannot make a scheduled session.

  • For the safety of our students we will help you complete a child abuse check, which takes about 30 minutes online.

  • Coaching and event are strictly virtual!

For questions, email 



Tuesday, January 5: Deadline for students and coaches to join the program

Wednesday, January 6 (6-7 pm): First coaching session

Wednesday, January 13 (6-7 pm): Second coaching session

Sunday, January 17 (6-7 pm): Final coaching session

Monday, January 18 (6-8 pm): MLK Day Speech Contest Live Virtual Event!

"Always feel that your life has the ultimate significance."


We hosted the first Thomas and Woods Foundation Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oratory Scholarship Contest in 2017 to give Philadelphia students the opportunity to share their views on our current political and social climate. Each student submitted an essay and then worked with a board member as a coach to turn their essays into speeches.


The contest was hosted at Martin Luther King High School on MLK Day, where over 50 people came to listen to these student's speeches. Each student was judged by local members from the community, including elected officials at the local and state level. Through the generous donations of our supporters and local organizations, we were able to award over $2,000 in scholarship money to the finalists. 

Since then, we have continued the tradition, and this year are proud to offer $3,500 in scholarship prizes to three students.

For questions regarding the contest, please email