Rev. Rodger Cutler sees St. Mark Baptist Church’s yearly Dr. Martin Luther King Oratorical and Poster Contest as a chance for young people to express themselves.
“We have a very resilient group of young people in our community and even though they’re faced with many challenges, you get to see their individual brilliance shine through their speeches and posters, and they do some really phenomenal work,” said Cutler, St. Mark’s pastor. “We believe that young people should be encouraged to realize and embrace their ability to achieve.”
The contest is open to any children from elementary school through high school, Cutler said. Entrants can register at http://www.stmarkbc.com. The event will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday at the church at 1020 S. Second St. The public is invited to attend.
A high school senior will win a $500 scholarship, while first, second and third place speakers will win $100, $75, and $50, respectively. Poster contest winners, chosen from high school, elementary school and middle school categories, will win $50 each.
“This platform was developed to give young people an opportunity to express themselves in a positive way while reminding them that they have not gotten there on their own,” Cutler said. “We’re standing not only on the shoulders of our parents, but all who came before — the resilience of the African American culture is present in our theme this year.”
That theme is “Enduring the Past, Embracing the Present and Empowering Our Future,” Cutler said, and it’s message that applies for everybody.
We are all one humanity as we have certainly endured the past, and now we are embracing the present and empowering our future,” Cutler said. “As we prepare to celebrate and commemorate the life and work of Dr. King, we remember that he had a dream of unity in this year. He hoped for a brighter future for all people.”
Cutler said the money for the prizes this year came from an assortment of community partners who “want to see our young people succeed.”
“I think one of the phenomenal components of our community is that we rally for the support of young people,” Cutler said. “Our partners love young people as well as we do, and we’re just so grateful to have help from community partners that assist us in this effort every year. “
A traditional follow up to the contest, “Churchin’ With The Pastors,” will also take place that Sunday afternoon, Cutler said. The secondary event reinforces that message of unity, he added.
“I really believe one of the highlights of the weekend is watching pastors from our local churches sing with their church choirs,” Cutler said. “They sing one song each, and so it doesn’t make it a long program but it makes it an exciting one, as we see pastors from our community come together to support this MLK weekend. “
The event helps a sense of togetherness extend beyond St. Mark’s usual demographic, Cutler said — a necessary sentiment, he said, given a divided political and economic climate.
“It’s not just black churches, we have white churches that are supporting us this year, too,” Cutler said. “We’re just grateful to see the community come together in a time when our nation is fractured — as one collective body seeking to fulfill our purposes here on Earth.”