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Ciara takes fifth in community MLK oratorical contest

Ciara stepped onto the stage and drew a deep breath. She laid her speech on the podium and adjusted the microphone. The seventeen-year-old was nervous.

A resident of Mills Home in Thomasville, Ciara has spoken in front of audiences multiple times, both in classroom and church sanctuary settings, However, writing and reciting a speech as a participant in the community’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratorical Contest is a new experience.

“I haven’t done anything that formal before,” she divulges. “In creating my speech, I had to include quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and follow certain guidelines. I had to write about a topic I haven’t thought about before.”

The topic given to Ciara and all 12 of the competing students by the Martin Luther King Social Action Committee, who organizes the annual event and banquet, was “We Will Not be Divided.” This year’s event was held on January 13 at Mills Home where Ciara has lived for more than four years.

As she reflected on the topic, as well as her own life, her direction for the speech came together. “I didn’t want to just list off a bunch of stats. I thought I could take an empathetic approach where people could relate to me.”

Ciara kept asking herself, “What divides us?”

“At school, we often divide each other by stereotypes. We put the ‘jocks’ in a group and the ‘nerds’ in another,” she explains. “We don’t see the individual beyond the groups we put them in. We only see labels.”

The concept of labels, and the implications attached to them, is deeply personal to Ciara. She bravely incorporated the words that have been associated with her life into her speech.

The evening of the contest, it wasn’t stagefright that made Ciara anxious as she begain speaking. It was because she was preparing to reveal her personal labels to the audience.

“I had friends at the contest with me. They know I live at Mills Home, but they don’t know everything about me,” Ciara explains.

Her nerves subsided as her courageous words appeared to flow effortlessly when she broached the source of her anxiety:

Labels can be both good and bad. How many of you have ever been labeled? It’s okay to say yes. It’s okay to raise your hands or simply acknowledge the question because I have. So has everyone else. Why don’t I give you some examples of labels for myself. I am female. I am a Christian. I am an orphan. I am a sexual abuse victim. I am in a group home. I am a survivor. I am smart. I am the one going places.

When she finished, the room erupted in applause.

“I was proud of her. The speech was personal and relatable – she spoke from the heart,” says Baptist Children’s Homes case manager Rae Francis. “She made such a great point about how we can take labels and turn them into a strength that can unify us instead of divide.”

Out of a dozen participants, Ciara received fifth place and a $1,000 scholarship prize.

“The day before I prayed and asked the Lord if He would give me fifth place. I knew I would be okay with that,” Ciara reveals. “The next thing I know that’s exactly what I got! That was my favorite part of it all. I said, ‘Thank you, Lord!’”

The timing is perfect for the high-school junior and straight-A student. She is beginning to look at college opportunities.

“I’ve been thinking about UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Asheville and Eastern Carolina,” Ciara says. “Receiving the money is a good starting point for me, and I’m already thinking about entering the contest again next year.”

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