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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Eugene Davis, left, Daniel Jackson and Roberth Ventura present their painted panels and speak about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Monday inside the Bessie Smith Cultural Center Monday morning during the second annual Speak Like a King presentation. Students from Chattanooga Preparatory School presented poetry, photography, painting and speeches in honor of the renowned civil rights leader.

Roberth Ventura stood at the podium at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and paused, struggling a bit through his speech. He's a seventh grade student at Chattanooga Preparatory School, the first all-boys public charter school in the city.

As he gathered himself, his classmate Daniel Jackson, got on stage and draped his arm around Ventura.

"If it wasn't for [Dr.] Martin Luther King, we wouldn't be right here," Ventura continued as the crowd cheered. "Martin Luther King left us his legacy to pass on."

Ventura and Jackson were among more than a dozen boys, or "Prepsters" as they are called at the school, to honor Martin Luther King and the legacy of the civil rights activist through poems, speeches and works of art, at the school's second annual "Speak Like a King" on Monday morning.

The event was meant to showcase the boys' talent and pay tribute to King through visual and performing arts, but it also was a tangible result of King and the civil rights movement's legacy, many said.

The more than 120 boys at the public charter school are predominantly boys of color who come from inner city Chattanooga neighborhoods that are made up largely of low-income families. The school opened in 2018 with the support of its sister school, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy.

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Daniel Jackson, right, puts his arm around Roberth Ventura to comfort him as he nervously speaks to a large crowd inside the Bessie Smith Cultural Center Monday morning during the second annual Speak Like a King presentation. Students from Chattanooga Preparatory School presented poetry, photography, painting and speeches in honor of the renowned civil rights leader. / Staff photo by Time Barber

"Our Prepsters are the future leaders of this community, and as we think of what Dr. King taught and stood for, our boys are carrying that legacy for the city of Chattanooga and the future of our country," said Head of School Brad Scott.

(MORE: Chattanooga's civil rights leaders share history of struggle, vision for future on Martin Luther King Jr. Day)

The boys talked about King's life and journey, as well as the legacy of his work and his famous "I Have A Dream" speech delivered during the March on Washington in August 1963.

"His speech was inspiring and special, what he said was on a very high level. He spoke from the heart and it was true, his words are legendary to me and you," recited Prepster and poet Andrew Crowder. "So remember the dream that he wanted us to be free and that Martin Luther King left a great legacy."

Crowder's classmate Eugene Davis, with the help of Jackson, presented a painting on two canvases. The words "I have a dream" were painted in contrasting white and black across two canvases, which the boys showcased standing side by side.

"It's important to remember [King] because he fought his whole life for everybody to live and to be equal," Davis explained. "There was a lot of black and white conflict, I just put it to canvas."

Vincent Ivan Phipps, a local motivational speaker, was again the emcee for the second annual event. He has been working with the boys after school this month, perfecting their performances and speeches, Scott said.

"This is the embodiment of Dr. King's dream," Phipps told the audience.

Seventh grader Zaire McCrary said he and his fellow classmates were symbols of King's dream for equal rights and integration.

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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Daniel Jackson puts his arm around Roberth Ventura to comfort him as he speaks to a large crowd inside the Bessie Smith Cultural Center Monday morning during the second annual Speak Like a King presentation. Students from Chattanooga Preparatory School presented poetry, photography, painting and speeches in honor of the renowned civil rights leader.

"Some said that the dream would not come true. But if you haven't noticed, we're not a dream," McCrary said.

Courtyus Fletcher, a seventh grader, said though students are called Prepsters, he considers them brothers.

"Our bond is not like any other," Fletcher said. "Today, we [are] speaking like the men of tomorrow."

Jackson, on stage again, presented a historic photograph of King linking arms with other black men and civil rights activists.

"We choose this photograph because it symbolizes them working together and they're not going to give up," Jackson said.

"It's like us bonded together at Chattanooga Prep," Fletcher added.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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