On Saturday, December 1, approximately two dozen Harlem students in fifth through tenth grades gathered at the New York Mission Society’s Minisink Townhouse to compete in a two-part speaking competition judged by an audience of their friends, family and peers. The event was hosted by the African American Male Initiative (AAMI).
Speakers improvised one 3- to 5-minute speech on a topic related to politics and current events. Topics ranged from the serious (the nation’s biggest challenges) to the personal (favorite vacations and the animal they would choose to be, and why). In a second, prepared speech, participants were asked to describe what they would do if they were elected president of the United States.
During lunch, the students were treated to a performance by the New York Mission Society Marching Band. Introducing the group, Mr. Robinson praised the competitors for their participation, noting that public speaking is an essential skill that would serve them well in school and in life.
To press his point, Mr. Robinson urged them to think this way: “If I can express myself,” he said, “maybe I can change the world.”
Given a chance to consider this premise, students tackled the tough issues of the day in their prepared speeches. Arguments were put forward to raise the minimum wage, guarantee equal pay for women, tackle obesity, fight unemployment, boost graduation rates for minorities and guarantee health care for low-income communities.
‘Lift Every Voice’ is the first of three planned events to be hosted by AAMI, The Children’s Aid Society’s effort to help young black male students succeed in school and lead productive lives.
As Program Director Clifton Watson noted, with attention given to the disproportionate rate at which black and Latino male students face challenges in their academic lives, the event “highlights student commitment to academic success and community investment in such efforts.”