Asheville School students

Justin Merriwether, class of 2019, Griffin Girvan-Morris, class of 2021 and Major Eason, class of 2019.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2019, a group of local students is seeking to engage and inspire the Asheville community with the Rev. Dr. King’s enduring works.

On Monday, Jan. 21, Asheville School and BeLoved Asheville will host a recitation competition open to all area students in grades 6 – 12.

The competition is organized by Asheville School students Major Eason 2019, Justin Merriwether 2019 and Griffin Girvan-Morris 2020. During the competition, participants are invited to perform accurate and engaging reenactments of some of the Reverend Dr. King’s most famous and important speeches.

With winners in both middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12) categories and $500 worth of prizes to win, Eason, Merriwether and Girvan-Morris hope to inspire students from across the Asheville area to compete.

The competition is open to any student who wishes to enter, but the hope is to inspire teachers to hold class-wide recitations in the weeks leading up to the January 21 event. Teachers can sign up to hold class competitions and then nominate those winners to go to the finals on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

The aim of holding these competitions is to teach a wide audience about a broad range of the Reverend Dr. King’s works.

“We would love for students to know more about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work by the time they start studying the Civil Rights Movement in middle school and high school,” said Girvan-Morris.

One speech you won’t be hearing? The famous “I Have a Dream” speech is not included on the list of eligible recitation works. That’s an intentional choice, says Justin Merriwether.

“We want to teach kids what he did outside of the one speech we all study,” Merriwether said. “Martin Luther King, Jr. stood up to fear, taught perseverance and had a lot of ideas that not everyone reads about when they are in middle school or high school.”

The idea for the competition came from Asheville School Director of Service Ben Williamson. Every year, students at Asheville School take part in a Shakespeare recitation, during which they learn an excerpt from Shakespeare’s works and perform it for the student body.

“Watching the Shakespeare recitations in the theater was amazing,” Williamson said. “I am passionate about civil rights, and I thought this could be a cool way to help students learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Williamson says he proposed the idea to students in Asheville School’s service program, and they ran with the idea.

With Eason, Merriwether and Girvan-Morris’s help, the group got the competition approved by the King Center and reached out to Poetry Out Loud--a national recitation contest held by the National Endowment for the Arts--to get an idea of how to offer recitation tips and provide a framework for scoring.

The student organizers say that they hope they will have a good turnout and that they would love to transform this into an annual event in Asheville.

“People our age are responsible for taking on so many complex ideas and responsibilities in today’s society,” Eason said. “We want to celebrate the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. in this way because we are looking to the future. We feel like more of his ideas should be integrated into our society.”

The competition will be held at the YMI Cultural Center of Asheville on Monday, Jan. 21 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sign up to participate at


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