Alma scholars celebrate Frederick Douglass with special event, presentation

NEW BEDFORD - Scholars across Alma’s network honored the life and work of Frederick Douglass with a public speaking competition on Friday, Feb. 16. 


“We are gathered here for two reasons: to celebrate the legacy of Frederick Douglass and to demonstrate the power of public speaking by presenting powerful words that have changed, or will change, the world,” Alma’s Executive Director Taylor DeLoach told the crowd.


Eighth grade scholar Amalya Feliciano Romero won the competition with a powerful reading of an original speech titled “Living with Disabilities.” Amalya was born with Spina Bifida, a condition that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don't form properly, and uses a wheelchair. She used her speech to share about her experience as a young teenager navigating middle school and everyday life.


Some kids tease and make jokes, not realizing that it can affect and damage a disabled person's self-esteem extremely,” Amalya shared. “No matter what though, I will continue to remind myself to always be the bigger person, stay true to who I am, and know that I am NOT defined by this wheelchair.” 


Amalya stated after the competition that she “didn’t care about winning” and instead wanted her speech to “help change the world.”


Finalists in the fifth annual Frederick Douglass Public Speaking Competition were Destiny Sanchez, Savannah Windsor, and Bryana Neris. Scholars were allowed to either write their own speech, or select to read a historically significant speech that also celebrated Black History Month, and the heritage of African Americans in the United States.


“What I love about this event is that [some of the scholars] tell their own story, they don’t read someone else’s speech, they write their own speech, and we’re always so impressed by that,” said Lee Blake, President of the New Bedford Historical Society. Blake was joined by board members Bob French and Jeanne Costa to present a replica of the Frederick Douglass statue that was installed at Abolition Row Park, which was opened by the New Bedford Historical Society and City of New Bedford in 2023. 


Alma’s newest campus is named in honor of Douglass, one of the most prominent abolitionists and civil rights leaders in the struggle for equality in the United States. Douglass lived in New Bedford in the mid-1800s after escaping slavery. His powerful testimony — both spoken and written — is a fixture in Alma’s curriculum, and scholars across grade levels study his work and life each year.


The public speaking competition was decided by a volunteer panel of judges including New Bedford City Councilor for Ward 1 Leo Choquette, Alma del Mar Board of Trustees member Charles Holley, Alma graduate (and winner of the 2023 competition) Elena Monteiro, and Alma Director of Humanities Curriculum Dr. Theresa Mercier. They scored each contestant on criteria including introduction of the famous speech, pronunciation, eye contact and body language.


About Alma del Mar Charter Schools:

Alma del Mar Charter Schools operates two charter public schools in New Bedford. The schools are tuition-free. Alma’s mission is to put every one of our scholars on the path to college and to challenge them to be service-minded leaders. We achieve this mission by providing a demanding and supportive education to every scholar who walks through our doors. Alma features a longer school day, a longer school year, high expectations for all scholars, and outstanding teachers from across the country. We currently serve 1,044 scholars across two campuses in New Bedford. Families interested in their child attending Alma del Mar may access the enrollment application at until Feb. 26.