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 hosted 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 gave out a total of $3,500 in scholarships to our top three speakers!

2022 winners

Congratulations to the winners of our 2022 contest, and thank you to all the participants, coaches, judges and attendees at the live event!

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


Councilmember Helen Gym

Councilmember Kendra Brooks

Community Leader Andre Carroll

Professor Cherése Godwin, PhD

Guest Speakers: Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and Councilmember Isaiah Thomas

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