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Cherry blossoms begin to bud at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. / AP File Photo/Patrick Semansky

Fifteen students from Chattanooga Preparatory School will honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday in a "Speak Like a King" program at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

Organizers describe it as a lesson in how history informs current events.

"Our theater department has given this year's program a different twist," Montrell Besley, director of community engagement at the all-boys public charter school, said in a phone interview with the Times Free Press. "It's like no other M.L. King Day of Service."

[READ MORE: Read about more M.L. King Day programs.]

[READ MORE: See other upcoming events in the Chattanooga area.]

"Speak Like a King" was created during the school's first academic year, 2018-19, by Vincent Ivan Phipps, owner of Communication VIP Training & Coaching.

"It started just with the boys giving their own unique speeches about the significance of Dr. King's 'I Have a Dream' speech," said Phipps, who coaches participants, in a phone interview. "They wouldn't repeat [the speech]. They would give their perspective, in their own words, about how it relates to them today."

Over the years, the presentations have evolved into a broader spectrum of entertainment.

"The kids now don't just do speeches," Phipps said. "They do original artwork and poems and songs in tribute, not just to Dr. King, but all aspects of the significance of Dr. King. Just to hear their stories about racism and courage and sacrifice from their perspective is mind-blowing."

Michael Howard, who teaches creative arts, said the program is open to any boy in the 300-member student body, which is now grades 6-9. A grade level is added each year as the inaugural sixth-grade class progresses to 12th grade.

"In a climate for everything happening in the world with race, they have a lot to say," Howard said by phone. "We facilitate their thoughts and let the kids speak what's on their mind, draw what's on their mind or sing what's on their heart."

The program starts at 10 a.m. Monday at the Bessie, 200 E. M.L. King Blvd. A livestream will be available on YouTube.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.

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