By Rhea Riley
Janiya Williams, eighth grader, is the 1st place winner of the 2018-2019 We Energies speech portion of the MPS Martin Luther King Jr. contest, and she joined host Faithe Colas on There is Always Something Good to Talk About to discuss her inspirational speech and future ambitions as an activist.
The MPS contest was divided into three different contest submissions: Art, Writing and Speech. The annual contest was open to students from K-12th grade. Each grade level was allotted one entry under four minutes in which students would deliver their self-written speech. The theme for the speeches was centered around the legacy of Dr. King and how his work relates to their lives.
Williams is one of 4,000 MPS students who submitted material for the contest. The competition had several rounds to get to their final winners, an initial submission deadline, followed by preliminaries and a final round where each grade level had five speakers compete for first place.
Williams’ speech addressed the many issues including black stereotypes, police brutality, black excellence and pride, and more:
“I see the news and I flinch black kids are getting shot down for sleeping on a bench. I can’t breathe just like I can’t believe why these parents have to grieve. From Eric to Trayvon everything has gone wrong all because we forget that we were all made equal. Made as one so why can’t we just find the strength to just put down the guns. Equal, all of gods people put on this earth as brothers and sisters misses and misters, unalarmed, unharmed and unarmed,” she stated in her speech.
Her powerful words were fueled by the frustration she felt over the massive amount of police brutality in her community and nationally. Specifically, the death of Trayvon Martin and the lack of change that has ensued since.
“I just started to get fed up with it and realized that since no one else is going to say something [then] I guess I’m going to have to say it for them,” said Williams about the spark that drove her to start her passionate speech for this competition.
Using the platform of the contest, Williams shared how she felt about many social justice issues that plague the black community and the lessons she learned from Dr. King. Similar to Dr. King, Williams success didn’t come without hardships. Janiya has entered the speech contest twice before winning this time.
“She was very discouraged because she did lose, but I said no, we are going to try again,” said Williams’ mother Olivia Rhodes. “Your winning season is going to come, so don’t quit.”
Williams admitted from being discouraged to share her writings and poetry with her peers, fearing that no one was listening because she was just a kid. Williams also stated she has faced forms of bullying for her activism and supportive household. Williams comes from a two-parent household—a type of family dynamic many children in Milwaukee don’t often have—leaving her as a target. However, Rhodes reassures her daughter to not stop sharing her words.
Eventually Williams resilience paid off, and she now wants to encourage her peers to not be deterred.
“I want to tell the kids out there that if you have something to say then say it and don’t be afraid because someone will listen.”
Contest winners were honored on Jan. 20 at an award ceremony at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. The award ceremony was a part of Milwaukee’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration and first place winners were able to perform their winning speeches.
The multitalented student skilled in singing, poetry and even praise dancing doesn’t plan on stopping soon. Stating that she wants to continue writing and pursuing a future in activism Williams wants to continue in Dr. Kings footsteps spreading his message of peace and non-violence.
“He didn’t just want change for black people, he wanted change as a whole,” said Williams. “He just wanted to be heard and I want to be heard because I have a lot to say.”