Finalists to compete Saturday in Martin Luther King Jr. advocacy competition

Six metro Detroit high school students will compete Saturday, March 19, as finalists in the 24th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major for Justice Advocacy Competition.

The public is invited to attend the competition from noon to 2 p.m. in the Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium at Wayne State University Law School, 471 W. Palmer St. The law school’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights is the new permanent host for the competition.

Eighty-two student essays were submitted by juniors and seniors from metro Detroit high schools to qualify for the competition, which is billed as the next generation of attorneys and judges honing their skills. The six finalists are from University High School Academy in Southfield, Southfield-Lathrup High School and Pontiac Academy for Excellence.

Thanks to a $100,000 endowment from retired Magistrate-Judge Adrian Spinks, the 1st plaque has been renamed the A. Kay Stanfield Spinks Memorial Award of Excellence and will be presented to the first-place winner along with a $5,000 cash award. Stanfield Spinks was a co-founder and the second president of the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association and the creator of the advocacy competition.

Using the principles espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the students are required to analyze an issue that relates directly to academic and/or societal realities that some students encounter each day. This year’s topic concerned the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

The question: The #BlackLivesMatter movement was created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. Many have criticized the #BlackLivesMatter movement for focusing on specific injustices done to African Americans stating there should be an #AllLivesMatter movement. If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive, would he argue that blacks should focus on the #AllLivesMatter movement to focus more globally and generally on all lives, or would he support the #BlackLivesMatter movement?

The competition’s purpose is to develop and improve the analytical and writing skills among high school students and to encourage and promote oral advocacy. A lawyer mentor will assist each finalist with preparing his/her oral presentation, which is argued to a panel of judges from Michigan state and/or federal courts.

The lawyers serving as mentors are Earlene R. Baggett-Hayes, The Law & Mediation Center PLLC; Nikkiya Branch, The Perkins Law Group PLLC; Jeffrey Collins, Collins & Collins, PC; Dawn Lee-Cotton, Wayne County; Jehan Crump-Gibson, C&G Solutions PLC; and Vassal N. Johnson II, Law Offices of Vassal N. Johnson II PLLC.

Composing the three-judge panel will be Chief Judge Pro Tem David Braxton, Wayne County Probate Court; Michigan Administrative Law Judge Samir R. Hanna; and Judge Debra Nance, 46th District Court, Southfield.

The competition is a cooperative program by the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association, Association of Black Judges of Michigan, Wolverine Bar Association and Wayne Law’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. The membership of the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association and Wolverine Bar Association primarily consists of African-American lawyers who practice in Oakland and Wayne counties. The membership of the Association of Black Judges of Michigan includes African-American judges presiding over courts throughout Michigan. All three organizations endeavor to serve the communities where members live and work.