About 2,000 people attended the 13th annual Martin Luther King Day Youth Oratorical Contest at First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dumfries on Monday, an event that brought together students from Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park to deliver speeches and compete for prizes.

This year, the theme was "To Birmingham by Way of Tuskegee." Students were asked to compare the oratorical and political views of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Booker T. Washington.

In particular, students were asked to examine Washington's 1895 Atlanta Exposition speech, where he wrote of white and black people that "in all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." The students were also asked to examine King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," where he laid out his rationale for civil disobedience as a way to fight segregation.

The winners include Paakow Acquah, a senior at Osbourn High School in Manassas; Melissa Albright, a senior at Gar-Field Senior High School in Woodbridge; and Dominique Steele, a junior at Potomac High School. They each won a $300 savings bond. Albright also won a $100 savings bond for the Best Before the Audience award; Steele won an additional $100 bond for Best Before the Judges.

At the middle-school level, the winners were Tahanna Nealy, a sixth-grader at Pennington Traditional School in Manassas; Victoria Nguyen, an eighth-grader at Fred Lynn Middle School in Woodbridge; and Kimberly Walls, a sixth-grader at Benton Middle School near Manassas. They each won a $300 savings bond. Walls also won a $200 bond for Best Before the Audience and Best Before the Judges.

Many of the students work for weeks on their speeches. Albright refined hers during weekly after-school sessions with Paulette Jones, an English teacher at Gar-Field.

"It's just to get the students to believe in their topic, believe in themselves, and believe in their theme," Jones said.

The practice also helps smooth out any pre-speech jitters.

"I like attention," Albright said, laughing. "I just feel as though all those people are out there supporting me."

-- Christina A. Samuels

Vicky Blackmond, B.J. Blackmond, 8, and Saidah Hardwick, 3, watch the annual King Day oratorical contest at First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dumfries. Ar right, Kimberly Walls, one of six award winners, gives a speech on the theme "To Birmingham by Way of Tuskegee."Above, drum majors Joquan Charleswell and Manuel Lugo address the crowd of about 2,000. At right, award-winner Victoria Nguyen discusses the views of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Booker T. Washington.