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Students Shine at Inaugural Local Talk Public Speaking Scholarship Contest

localtalkscholarshipORANGE - The 13 young people who participated in the First Annual Local Talk Community Foundation High School Students Public Speaking Scholarship Contest brought eloquence and some drama to some 160 appreciative diners here at Bella Italia Ristorante Nov. 6.

Two speakers - Dalila John, of East Orange's Cicely Tyson High School of Performing and Fine Arts and Vida Chiri, of Newark's University High School - each found themselves having to make one-minute impromptu presentations after the five-member contest board counted a tie between them.

Hydeia Austin, of Newark's Malcolm X Shabazz High School, almost missed making her presentation due to taking the SAT exam. The judges, who had just turned in their scorecards when Austin breathlessly entered Bella Italia's dining hall, agreed to hear her address.

The audience - mainly family, instructors, captains of industry and local public officials - all hailed Precious Osagie-Erese, of East Orange Campus High School as the inaugural contest's first prize winner. Chiri was awarded second place, by a single judge's point, and John third.

Osagie-Erese received a $2,500 check for her leading efforts. The former East Orange Memorial Day mistress of ceremonies said that she would be putting the award towards her college textbooks.

Chiri, who intends to enter law school, received a $1,500 check. John, who wants to leverage an envisioned biology major into an obstetrics and gynecology practice, received a $1,000 check.

All 13 appearing entrants, representing high schools in six towns, were each bestowed a $100 gift card for their efforts.

The overall awards fund came in part from five sponsors. Grand Sponsor Z Level Fitness contributed along with Gold Sponsors Z Level manager Pat Balavender and East Orange General Hospital and Silver Sponsors Bella Italia and Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith.

Smith performed triple duty as a judge and one of six Local Talk 10th Anniversary Organizing Committee members. EOGH President Kevin Slavin also served as one of the original five judges along with Orange Mayor and organizing committee member Eldridge Hawkins, Jr. and Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin. East Orange Second Ward Councilwoman Jacquelyn Johnson accepted Local Talk Editor/Publisher Dhiren Shah's invitation to the judges' table when Essex County Freeholder Carol Y. Clark explained that she would be arriving late from attending a friend's funeral.

Orange Councilman Elroy Corbitt, Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker, East Orange Mayor Robert Bowser and State Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-South Orange) were also among the public officials from the municipal, county or state legislative levels who also attended part or the entire five-hour event. Bowser came early to listen to each of the 13 contestants' presentations.

Booker apologized for missing "outstanding oratory from our future leaders" and saluted Local Talk Newspaper for its 10 years of urban Essex County coverage.

Orange-based "Local Talk" started out as a monthly edition Nov. 1, 2000 and soon became a weekly on February 22, 2002. Shah launched "Local Talk Newark" July 4, 2007. Electronic editions serving up to 11 Essex County municipalities soon followed.

Bowser, in his remarks before the gathering, recalled how Shah approached him on the "Local Talk" concept - "Let's Talk for the Betterment of Our Communities" - and became the first person to distribute the inaugural edition at East Orange City Hall.

"When Mr. Shah approached me about 'Local Talk' 10 years ago, the idea of presenting positive news appealed to me," said Bowser. "You get so much positive news in the media," while he held an inch of space between his fingers, "and you get this much," outstretching his arms a yard, "that's negative."

Bowser, Booker, Newark's Mount Calvary Independent Holy Church of God in Christ Senior Pastor Dr. Margaret R. Lucas, attorney Anuj Shah and Local Talk Newspapers Associate Editor Kristopher Seals were among those receiving Local Talk Awards for their work in the community, with the Local Talk media outlets and/or organizing the inaugural public speaking competition.
Contest mistress of ceremonies Lisa Darden, before announcing the top three finalists, also asked those Local Talk Newspapers contributors present to stand for applause. Distributor Madge Atkinson plus Local Talk President Asha Shah, writers Min. Thomas Ellis, William Hathaway, Walter Elliott and Andrea Dansby responded.

"I wanted to do something for the community and the idea came to me Sept. 6, 2010," recalled Shah. "I talked about it with Kris Seals, who fine-tuned it. Our high school students are young and future American leaders; they have to be trained to lead the world."

Shah and Seals then put calls out for organizing committee members and high school contestants. Smith, Hawkins, Balavender and Durden joined the duo on the committee.

In the end, 13 students from among 23 Local Talk Newspapers-area high schools made their five-minute presentations Nov. 6. Also presenting speeches were:

  • Rachel Cooper, West Orange High School.
  • Makeba Green, Arts High School, Newark.
  • Fatmata Jalloh, Newark Vocational High School.
  • Jairam Kissoon, Orange High School.
  • N'imah Ismail, Columbia High School (Maplewood/South Orange).
  • Jazir Beckford, American History High School, Newark.
  • Ahmod Smallwood, East Orange Campus 9 High School.
  • Kevin Lopez, Technology High School, Newark.
  • Salaam Thomas, Science Park High School, Newark.

While each contestant could choose from among six topics, a majority picked discussing profiles of and applications from such peacemakers as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Several chose the subject on the economy.

Shah, on Nov. 8, announced that the Second Annual High School Students Public Speaking Scholarship Contest will return to Bella Italia Oct. 22.

"Getting 13 high schools from among 23 is a very good response for the first time out," said Shah. "We want to get away from the SAT and the annual teachers' convention dates. We want to grow this event into something even more special."

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