MLK day speech CONTEST
live event!
JANUARY 17, 2022

"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 will honor Dr. King once again by hosting the Fourth Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Speech Contest on January 17, 2022.  This annual event matches high school students with coaches over several weeks, empowering them to write and perform their very own speeches before a live panel of judges.  This year we will give out a total of $3,500 in scholarships to our top three speakers!

2022 Theme

Welcome to the 2022 Martin Luther King Day Speech Contest!  Choose one of the following MLK quotes and write a 3-5 minute speech about how it applies to you or what you would say to him about it today:

“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)

2022 Schedule

Deadline to sign up: Sunday, January 2

The Contest pairs high school juniors and seniors with volunteer coaches and gives you a chance to connect with other participants and learn the basics of speech preparation.  On MLK Day 2022, students will perform their speeches for a live event with judges (virtual or in-person TBD).  The top three scoring students will win scholarships for any type of school or training after high school.  See details and sign up links below.

Details for High School Students: Students sign up here!

  • 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 3-5 minute speech (about 750 words) about the theme above.

  • Virtual coaching will be given during four sessions via Zoom.  See dates below.  You can schedule separate virtual sessions with your coach if needed.  You must attend at least one coaching session to participate in the live event on MLK Day.

  • 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. 17.

  • Coaching is strictly virtual!

Details for Coaches: Coaches sign up here!

  • Volunteer to help high school students write and prepare speeches.

  • Commitment is at least three coaching sessions with your student(s) and the final event on Jan. 17.  See dates below.  Sessions will be held via Zoom. You may hold coaching sessions on your own if you cannot make a scheduled session.

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

  • Coaching is strictly virtual!


coaching session Dates*

  1. Wednesday, December 29 at 7 pm 

  2. Wednesday, January 5 at 7 pm

  3. Wednesday, January 12 at 7 pm

  4. Sunday, January 16 at 3 pm

*You must attend at least one coaching session to participate in the contest.  You can schedule separate sessions if you cannot make all of these dates.

Live final event: Monday, January 17, time and location/virtual TBA

2021 Winners

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.​


Grace Chang, J.R. Masterman Lab. & Demons. High School

Dennis Chen, G.W. Carver Eng'g & Science High School

Malcolm Miller, J.R. Masterman Lab. & Demons. High School


Congratulations to all 12 of our high school students who performed at the live event! 


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