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Speaking of Black History Month: Tennessee High students take first, runner-up slots in Eastman Oratorical Contest

Rick Wagner • Jan 23, 2020 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT — Tennessee High students took the top two spots in the Black History Month-focused 2020 Eastman Oratorical Contest Wednesday.

Winner Madison Wilson and runner-up Sydney Smith were among 170 entrants in the contest, which included three other finalists and 10 honorable mentions. Eastman Chemical Company sponsored the event, with the five finalists reading their essays at the Eastman Lodge near Bays Mountain Park. The contest was open to high school students from Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

“I wasn’t expecting it because I thought everyone’s essays were good and the way they presented,” Wilson said, adding that she plans to seek a degree in either writing or psychology at Middle Tennessee State University or the University of Tennessee.

She received a $1,000 cash prize and will present her essay at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the free Symphony of the Mountains Black History Month event, “Our Voices Rise Together,” at Eastman’s Toy F. Reid Employee Center.

Wilson’s speech, titled “Toni Morrison,” focused on the African American writer she said helped shape American literature. Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, becoming the first African American woman to do so. The novelist, essayist, book editor and college professor also won a Pulitzer Prize. She died last year.

More than 200 attended the luncheon event, which also recognized African Americans with 31 to 35 years of service to Eastman and the retirement of Cari Parker, a vice president and leader of efforts to attract more black employees to the company.

Runner-up Smith received a $500 prize for “Jane Cooke Wright,” a pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon noted for her contributions to chemotherapy. Wright is credited with developing the technique of using human tissue culture rather than laboratory mice to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells. Wright died in 2013.

“As we celebrate our (Eastman) centennial, we want to give voice to our past,” said Mark Cox, senior vice president and chief manufacturing, supply chain and engineering officer. “I was enriched by this.”

Third place finisher Sonali Poobalasingham of Dobyns-Bennett won a $300 prize for “Mamie Clark: The Mother of Humanitarian Psychology.” Clark and her husband, Kenneth Clark, provided evidence for the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found “separate but equal” was not constitutional. The social psychologist and her husband focused on the development of self-consciousness in black preschool children. Clark died in 1983.

Fourth place finisher Jacqueline Byers of D-B presented “Eulogy for Dr. Patricia Bath,” the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent. Bath, who invented the Laserphaco Probe for cataract treatment in 1986, died last year.

Fifth place finisher Allie Ford of Volunteer High spoke on “Seeing Beyond: New Perspective in to the Unknown,” about George Robert Carruthers, who made strides in the use of ultraviolet light and its use in moon exploration and studying space. Carruthers invented the ultraviolet camera/spectrograph for NASA to use when it launched Apollo 16 in 1972.

Jacquelin and Allie each received $250.

Honorable mentions were D-B EXCEL student Pearson Mills; D-B students Cathryn Fetterman, Jordan Harding, Ethan Murray, Will New and Grace Wellman; Family Christian Academy’s Cade Campbell; Tennessee High’s Emma Cross and Grace Johnson; and Volunteer High’s Sarah Gonce.

Mark Beaty, Northeast State Community College; Kayla Walker Edin, Milligan College; Carshonda M. Harris, East Tennessee State University; Brad Belote, Eastman Corporate Communications; and David Reynolds, First Horizon Bank served as judges for the contest. The five judges ranked students based on the combined score of the written essay and oration.