Every year hundreds of children from pre-k through 12th grade participate in the Oakland MLK Oratorical Festival, a stirring public speaking competition where they perform poetry and speeches, both published and original, inspired by the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Debuting TUESDAY, FEB. 18 (7:00-8:10 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO in commemoration of Black History Month, WE ARE THE DREAM: THE KIDS OF THE OAKLAND MLK ORATORICAL FEST, directed and produced by Emmy® winner Amy Schatz (HBO’s “In the Shadow of the Towers,” “Song of Parkland”) and executive produced by Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (HBO’s “True Detective”), Amatus Karim Ali, Mimi Valdés and Julie Anderson, is a look at an event in which young people raise their voices about issues they care about, and a portrait of the unique community that celebrates and supports them.
The film will also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and partners’ streaming platforms.
WE ARE THE DREAM features the Oakland Unified School District’s MLK Oratorical Festival in California – one of the many oratorical competitions that take place in communities across the country. The documentary follows students from schools across the city in the months leading up to the 40th annual festival, as they rehearse their speeches in classrooms and in their homes, hoping for a coveted spot in the finals.
“As a Bay Area Native, it’s an honor to celebrate these extraordinary young voices and shine light on the wonderful educators and community that supports them,” says Mahershala Ali, who serves as an executive producer on the documentary.
Oakland, one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., has a long history of social justice movements and activism. The MLK Oratorical Fest continues that tradition by encouraging its local young people to take inspiration from Dr. King. As Zarina Ahmad, principal of Piedmont Avenue Elementary, explains, “Dr. King was a freedom fighter by using his words. He was able to change a nation by being able to just speak and I feel it [MLK Oratorical Festival] empowers the students to have a voice.”
Through interviews with the contestants and scenes of rehearsals and performances, the film reveals the deep connection the students make between King’s words and the world they live in. Subjects include:
- Gregory Payton (age 9) delivers passages from Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech with moving intensity.
- Karunyan Kamalraj (age 9) describes his discovery of MLK’s teachings and how it helped shape his speech about his native Sri Lanka.
- Abrar (age 6) performs an original poem written by her sister Lamiya Mohammed (age 12) that discusses growing up Muslim in America.
- Donovan Edwards (age 10) talks about using the reach of social media to lift people up.
WE ARE THE DREAM also features the extraordinary educators, judges, and family members who encourage the students along the way. “It’s amazing what’s coming out of the hearts and minds of young people today,” observes Oratorical Fest producer Awele Makeba. “They’re profound and they’re intelligent and they have a vision and given the opportunity to share and to listen, there’s so much to learn.”
As MLK’s words echo throughout the film, the kids describe what participating in the competition means to them. As Victoria, age 11, puts it, “Dr. Martin Luther King, he made a legacy. I may not be known, I may just be another kid in this world, but at that same time I feel like I am somebody. So, because of that I feel like I have to give my best. I feel like I’m doing this for him.”
HBO Documentary Films presents WE ARE THE DREAM: THE KIDS OF THE OAKLAND MLK ORATORICAL FEST directed by Amy Schatz; produced by Amy Schatz and Diane Kolyer; executive produced by Julie Anderson. For Know Wonder: executive producers Mahershala Ali, Amatus Karim Ali, Mimi Valdés. For HBO: senior producer, Sara Rodriguez; executive producers, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller.