BALTIMORE (WJZ) — WJZ continues to celebrate Black History Month with our annual Black History Oratory Competition.

This year’s competition is a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic but still holds the same spirit.

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The annual Black History Oratory Competition is a 27-year tradition at WJZ.

UPDATE: Winners announced Saturday

“We decided we have to keep this competition going, it’s too important, especially in today’s world,” Jeanie Starr, Promotions Manager at WJZ, said.

So, finalists submitted their speeches on video.

Maryland high school students were asked to write an essay based on one of three quotes.

This year, one of the quotes is from Martin Luther King Jr. about the capacity to forgive.

“When I think of the word of forgiveness, I like to think of it as a type of superpower,” J’Naya Harris said.

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“Because it is by our mistakes that we learn and gain experience, and therefore it is by our mistakes that we live,” Jerome Hamilton said.

Another quote is from Shirley Chisholm. Contestant Jayla Hawkins said she chose that one because it spoke to her.

“That quote just stood out because I want to be one of those women who are powerful and become role models to the younger generations,” Hawkins said.

A record of 200 essays were submitted. The judges said it was a stiff competition.

“It was really difficult arriving at the highest scores,” Adele Newson-Horst, Professor of English at Morgan State University, said.

For the first time, winners will be announced during our Black History Oratory Competition Special which will air Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and hosted by WJZ’s finest.

Putting a special like this one all together was quite the project, one Starr calls a labor of love.

“Even though the format is a little different, it’s still a tremendous challenge, and it’s still so exciting to see our bright young people speaking their minds,” Starr said.

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Annie Rose Ramos