MLK day speech CONTEST
live event!
JANUARY 16, 2023

"The event was wonderful. I appreciated learning more about the students and their goals, dreams, and perspectives."

"Be the best of whatever you are."

The 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 hosts the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Speech Contest, which matches high school students with mentor-coaches over several weeks, empowering them to write and perform their very own speeches before a live panel of judges.  The top speeches win $3,500 in scholarships!

2022-23 Info

This contest asks high school juniors and seniors to write and perform their own speech relating to this year's theme (below).  To guide students in writing their speeches, we will have nine virtual coaching sessions in December and January.  At the sessions, we will have guest speakers, tips on speech writing, and time for coaches and students to meet.  You are strongly encouraged to attend one of the first two sessions.  To compete in the final event, students must attend at least four sessions.


Schedule of Sessions: All sessions will be over Zoom at 7 pm.

Wednesday 12/7, Sunday 12/11 (attend one of the first two sessions), Wednesday 12/14, Sunday 12/18, Wednesday 12/21, Sunday 1/4, Wednesday 1/8, Sunday 1/8, Wednesday 1/11 and Sunday 1/15.  The coaching sessions are STRICTLY VIRTUAL.  

Final event with guest judges: Monday, January 16.  Time and location TBD.  Depending on the number of participants, we may hold a Round I of speeches to select finalists for the final event.

2023 Theme.  Your speech should relate to the following theme: Love your enemies

Scholarships: The top three speeches as judged by our guest judges at the final event will receive $2,000, $1,000 and $500 in scholarships!  But even students who don't win gain valuable new connections and skills!

Students sign up here!  Coaches sign up here!

Student Testimonials:

"The coaching set up allowed me to properly guide my thoughts and build a good overall speech, but it also allowed for me to build a speech that fit my style best."

"The coaching sessions were very interactive and helpful."

"The event gave me perspective on my city I was able to hear from people I'd never even heard of before, and the adults were encouraging to the ideas/ideals brought up even though they were being brought up by 'kids.' This gave me confidence to speak my mind on real life issues."

Past Winners

2022 Theme: Write a speech about one of the following quotes: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”  (Washington, DC, February 1968); "A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right."  (Selma, AL, March 1965).

First place:  Kevin Leonard, G.W. Carver High School of Eng’g and Science

Second place: Erin Gill-Wilson, G.W. Carver High School of Eng’g and Science

Third place: Ja’Leah Guenther, Central High School

Finalists: Sarah Narvaez, Daysha Cobb, Ryan Johnson, Nasir Williams

2021 Theme: Building Resilience in 2020: How has the resilience you’ve built in 2020 prepared you for the future? 

First place winner ($2,000 scholarship): Dwayne Campbell, G.W. Carver Eng'g & Science H.S.​

Second place winner ($1,000 scholarship): Youma Diabira, Central High School

Third place winner ($500 scholarship): Dea Carter, G.W. Carver Eng'g & Science H.S.​

Finalists: Grace Chang, Dennis Chen, Malcolm Miller


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.

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

For questions regarding the contest, please email