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When Caleb Drummond was only a toddler, he talked his mother through a difficult life transition. As Donna Drummond remembers it, her 2-year-old stood on her bed, “took my hands and started praising the Lord.”

The son of two preachers, Caleb, now 16, won first place Sunday in WJZ-TV’s 2018 Black History Oratory Competition at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, dazzling an audience of about 100 with a speech that drew immediate comparisons to a sermon and murmurs of “Pass the plate!”

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Caleb, a junior at Mount Zion Baptist Christian School in Loch Raven, chose a quote by the activist Marian Wright Edelman about education improving the lives of others and a community as a whole, and spoke in a forceful tone about the power of education and the importance of considering the sources of information.

“People are constantly and infinitely educated by something,” Caleb said. “Some are educated by books, some are educated by other people, and some are educated by entertainment. What we are educated by determines our philosophy or school of thought.”

“Because we are always being educated,” he added, “one must watch from whom they draw their knowledge.”

Nineteen semifinalists, chosen from more than 100 applicants from high schools around the Baltimore region, delivered their memorized speeches, interpreting quotes by Edelman, Malcolm X and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Armani Jackson, of North County High School, took third place for her live oration in the WJZ Black History Oratory competition. She was one of 20 semi-finalists competing in the competition at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.
Armani Jackson, of North County High School, took third place for her live oration in the WJZ Black History Oratory competition. She was one of 20 semi-finalists competing in the competition at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Izaac Hester, of Loyola Blakefield, won second place, and Armani Jackson, of North County High School, came in third. Each of the winners received a check and scholarship money in the contest, sponsored by the television station, the museum, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Morgan State University and Toyota Financial Services.

“People focus on the injustices,” Caleb said afterward. “I chose to focus not on the injustices but on the problems we make ourselves — something happening right now, as we speak, that people could relate to.”

Caleb’s parents, brother and twin sisters cheered him on. His father, Reginald Drummond, said Caleb has always treated his personal failures as rungs from God on the ladder to success.

“There were always obstacles,” he said. “We encouraged him to keep on doing his best.”

Izaac applied Edelman’s quote to an incident at Loyola Blakefield in December, in which a student scrawled a racial epithet and threat on a bathroom stall. The incident prompted the Catholic boys school in Towson to close for a day, and spurred a round of soul-searching by the administration and students.

Izaac’s immediate reaction, he said, “was to label anyone who did not look like myself as the culprit who invaded my school and made myself and other minority students feel uncomfortable.”

He told his mother, Kimberly Carr, he wanted to switch schools. But she knew he liked Loyola, and told him to stay and face the issue head-on.

“Don’t complain,” she told him. “Be a change-maker.”

Izaac and his fellow students took a pledge to educate all who would listen on the effects of racism and the importance of diversity, he said.

Loyola Blakefield, a Catholic boys’ school in Towson, was closed Thursday after racist graffiti was discovered in a bathroom stall.

“Now, as I walk through the halls of my school community, I can feel a sense of honor, knowing that my small contributions will help in making the next generation of minority students feel as though they belong and feel as though they will be able to educate the next man that comes after them,” Izaac said. “With this amount of power, there will be no stopping the changes that will come.”

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Armani chose a quote in which Malcolm X described education as “a passport to the future.”

She recalled struggling with math throughout her early years in school and indulging in a self-defeating attitude. Then she encountered her first black math teacher.

“He told me that I should not give up on learning math over a few mistakes because my ancestors struggled and fought for my generation to receive an education, and that difficult math often discourages minorities and can prevent them from furthering their education,” she said.

“What he said became a constant reminder of why I should value my education, because I do not wish to be a victim of institutionalized oppression within the education system,” Armani said. “And I want to pay homage to my ancestors, such as Malcolm X, who dreamed for my generation to learn with the rest of America.”

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