NICEVILLE — Walking through the door of the Mattie Kelly Arts Center on the Northwest Florida State College campus, a little girl holds a poster with a large, colorful peace sign plastered in the middle as she holds her father's hand.

This little girl was one of many students who participated in today's 23rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical and Poster Competition. The competition is part of the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, which also features a memorial service and parade.

More than 100 Okaloosa County elementary, middle and high school students gathered to give speeches and share their thoughts on poster boards about King’s influence.

With the theme “Courage to Take a Stand” in mind, one elementary student described her experience with taking a stand against bullies at school, which she compared to King’s stance against segregation.

Another elementary student encouraged the audience to “be a part of the resolution and not the conflict.”

Clarence Ross, 18, is a senior at Choctawhatchee High School. Sporting his gold participation medal around his neck, he said although nervous, he felt confident in his speech.

“I wanted to inspire others to feel encouraged and not discouraged so that they can continue to make progress and achieve their goals,” Ross said.

For the second year in a row, Nakara Beliveau chaired the event. She said interest from students continues to grow each year.

“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” Beliveau said.

As a third-grade teacher at Lewis School, Beliveau said she was encouraged to see students speak consciously about taking a stance for their beliefs.

“They know what’s going on in the world,” Beliveau said. “They’re of all different backgrounds, all different cultures here. I like to see that because it’s not just a one culture problem, it’s a various culture problem.”

The event is sponsored by the Sigma Omicron Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Here are the winners of the contests:


1st Place Elementary School — Gabrielle Valdez

1st Place Middle School — Deshawn Ford

1st Place High School — Journey Washingtonhigh


1st Place Elementary School — Alexa Kuhn

1st Place Middle School — Kayli Peazant

1st Place High School — Jayden Hail