The Mu Xi Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. hosted the Lampkin-Hughes Oratorical contest at the Trent Lott Center Wednesday, Feb. 19.
The prompt given to orators asked for a definition of the N-word as it is used in today’s society and asked to decide whether it should be used at all in any sense by members of any race.
The president of the Mu Xi Chapter, Donald Holmes, who presided over the event said the goal was to have an intellectual conversation about the word and about how history impacts today’s society. Holmes said events such as the oratorical contest demonstrate a certain consciousness of how important knowing our history is, especially being in the Deep South.
The night’s orators included president of the USM chapter of the NAACP, Candanise Walter; member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., Tyler Artis; member of the Church of God in Christ Ministry, Kandyce Gamble; member of the Mississippi Governor’s Student Advisory Board, Jade Dedeaux; member of the SGA Senate, Kristen Dupard; recipient of the humanitarian award from the League of Women Voters, Benjamin Reynoso; and the winner of the 2011 and 2012 Mobile Chapter of Jack and Jill of America Oratorical Contest, Jaylen Hackett.
The orator awarded honorable mention was Kandyce Gamble.
Using a commanding voice, Gamble argued the N-word had no place in today’s society.
One part of Gamble’s speech that got a reaction from audience members was when she gave a list of the first African-Americans who achieved great success in the professional arena, and then asked, “now who are you calling a nigger?”
The orator awarded runner-up was Jaylen Hackett who argued it is up to the African-American community to rid society of the N-word. Hackett said, “(m)an is what he speaketh and (if) the way the black community continues to allow this negativity to be acceptable then we are bound to be mentally enslaved in a free nation and will not even realize it.”
The winner of the competition was Kristen Dupard who was also runner up in the 2013 Lampkin-Hughes Oratorical competition. Dupard argued the word is at the center of our dealings with discrimination although it seems to have an unclear definition, and thus should not be used by African-Americans to define ourselves.
“It’s an identity without a name,” Dupard said. “It’s a hateful, yet edifying, not to mention cool word our society has become accustomed to identifying with.”
Dupard said she enjoyed the chance to participate because she believes the contest allows students to voice their opinion without worrying about keeping things in line. “That’s what we need so much in society,” Dupard said. “We need honesty.”
While judges deliberated, the USM Director of the Office of Professional Development and Educational Outreach, Lt. Col. Frederick Eugene Varnado, was asked to take the stage. Varnado who will be celebrating his 60th birthday this year decided to share some of his experience of racism. “I know what it means to be called nigger, to ride on the back of the bus, not having an opportunity to sit down at the theater, not being able to sit at the counter,” Varnado said. He said there are still places he cannot go before singing, “Oh, Freedom” and “I’ll Be Somewhere Listening.”
Holmes said the event went well and that all of the students demonstrated their passion and were well versed in the topic, concluding, “the audience left different from when they came.”