Young Heroes

Selma Jeyathurai White

by Abigail Richardson from MY HERO Staff

Selma Jeyathurai White: A Young Orator Making Waves Locally and Nationally

At just 6 years old, Selma Jeyathurai White, a first grader at Chabot Elementary School in Oakland, California is defying expectations and leaving an indelible mark on the local and national stage. Recognized for her exceptional oratorical skills, Selma recently secured first place in the National Frederick Douglass Oratorical Contest for her age group. Her parents, Byron White and Dashini Jeyathurai, virtually entered her in the contest by submitting a video of her delivering a powerful excerpt from Frederick Douglass' "The Race Problem."

"The true problem is not the negro… but the nation," said Selma forcefully in a video rehearsing the speech.

154659Selma Jeyathurai WhiteYouTube Video

Selma's impassioned recitation caught the attention of judges, earning her the top spot in the prestigious national contest. In February 2024, Selma and her family will travel to Washington D.C. to receive her award and deliver the winning speech once again.

Previous Achievements:

This isn't Selma's first foray into oratorical competitions. As a kindergartner, she participated in the Oakland Unified School District’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Fest, showcasing her talents on a local level. Undeterred by her age, Selma's commitment to these competitions reflects her dedication to preserving and honoring the legacy of influential Black leaders.

Preparing for the Future:

Currently preparing for this year's MLK Oratorical Fest, Selma has chosen to recite Dr. King’s famous Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Her parents attribute Selma's success to her dedication to understanding and memorizing complex literature. Byron personally works with her, ensuring she comprehends the material's significance, emphasizing the importance of connecting past and present.

"I practice with my parents every day and they give me suggestions about how to make it better," Selma said. "I love saying the speech because you get to be on stage and also the prizes." 

Family Support:

Selma's multi-racial background serves as a unique perspective, allowing her parents to introduce her to the rich history of Black orators. By immersing Selma in the speeches of the past, they aim to foster a connection between her present and the historical struggles for justice, democracy, and the right to vote.

Practice and Perseverance:

Selma's rigorous preparation involves daily practice sessions with her parents, who provide valuable suggestions to enhance her delivery. Her love for being on stage and the allure of prizes motivate her to perfect her performances. Even her name, "Selma," meaning peace, carries historical weight, reminding everyone of the civil rights marches in Alabama in 1965.

Selma's parents express their pride in her hard work and dedication, hoping that their daughter continues to be a leader who stands up for what is right and just. As Selma tours the Douglass Cedar Hill home in the nation's capital, her achievements at such a young age hint at a promising future, making her a young advocate for positive change.

Watch Selma's Speech on YouTube HERE.

Page created on 1/15/2024 11:34:16 AM

Last edited 1/15/2024 11:57:58 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.