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Participants from last year’s MLK Oratorical Contest are pictured. This year’s oratorical contest will be held on Sunday, Feb. 28.

THOMASVILLE — An annual tradition during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday will be pushed out to February this year, but preparations for the 2021 Martin Luther King Oratorical Contest have already begun.

Scheduled for 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28, at Citadel of Faith Christian Fellowship, the contest will again feature contestants from the Piedmont, as well as some from outside the area. Having grown into a regional event, the oratorical contest is more than an opportunity to hone public speaking skills.

The event is also a longstanding source of funding for prospective college students.

Since January 2001, the Martin Luther King Social Action Committee has gifted more than $160,000 in scholarships and awards to participants in the event. This year, attendance of the outing for spectators will be virtual, though contestants and judges will be in the same facility as speeches are delivered.

Dr. Pamela Jackson, who serves as dean of students for the oratorical contest, said assembling the team and the logistics of arranging details of this year’s contest has proven more challenging than usual given the pandemic. Nevertheless, MLK-SAC will distribute more than $14,000 in scholarships and trophies to high school juniors and seniors from the region who participate in the oratorical contest.

As primary sponsors backed out during the pandemic, concerns regarding funding required founder Dr. George B. Jackson to “dig deep,” he said, requesting money from individual donors directly. After a year that saw more than $13,500 distributed in scholarship funding in 2020, the MLK-SAC was able to up the total to $14,000 in 2021 despite all the obstacles.

“We didn’t want to break that tradition,” Jackson said. “We are proud that in this pandemic atmosphere, we were able to scratch and claw and increase our scholarship offering.”

This year’s event will still allow parents to travel with students to the oratorical contest. One or two guests will be permitted to accompany the students. Requirements for social distancing and face coverings will be observed.

“It’s a matter of being flexible, of being careful and being very contentious and cognizant of being safe,” Pamela Jackson said. “I know some students are coming from out of town. I, as a parent, if my child was coming from Maryland, parts of Virginia, South Carolina … I would want to come with my senior also.”

Staff writer Daniel Kennedy may be reached at kennedy@tvilletimes.com or 336-888-3578.

Staff writer Daniel Kennedy may be reached at kennedy@tvilletimes.com or 336-888-3578.