Racism ‘a stain on America’

Despite his age, teen making his mark in fight for civil rights

By JENNIFER COHRON, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 2/23/18

Ja’Ray Nalls was around 9 or 10 years old the first time that he was asked to speak at the annual Martin Luther King Day program held in Jasper.

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Racism ‘a stain on America’

Despite his age, teen making his mark in fight for civil rights

Posted

Ja’Ray Nalls was around 9 or 10 years old the first time that he was asked to speak at the annual Martin Luther King Day program held in Jasper.

His recitation of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was so popular that he became a regular speaker at the event.

By the time he was a teenager, Nalls had moved on from delivering famous speeches to sharing his own thoughts with the crowd gathered at the Percy L. Goode Community Center.

His most recent speech, titled “Just a Little Elbow Grease,” earned him praise from James C. Fields, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who served as the main speaker.

Nalls opened the speech with a story about the day he accidentally took a dirty plate out of the dishwasher.

“I think of America as the dirty plate, fine at a glance, but with just a few more moments of looking, you see the stains. Racism is a stain on America,” he said.

In the speech, Nalls methodically laid out the steps for cleaning a plate, relating each to the ongoing fight for equality.

He concluded by telling the crowd that though King wasn’t superhuman, he knew how to apply elbow grease to the problems that plagued America in his day.

The audience cheered him on as he delivered the final lines: “I know in my heart that we can clean this plate together. Because no matter how dirty our plate may seem, no matter how stuck on the stains are, or how hard it will be to clean it, all it takes, is just a little elbow grease.”

Through years of practice, Nalls has learned the art of weaving together current events with history.

One of his previous speeches focused on how history would have been different if King had died after being stabbed in a Harlem bookstore.

“A doctor said that if he would have sneezed, he would have died. I made a speech around what if Dr. King had sneezed,” said Nalls, a junior at Jasper High School who hopes to translate his oratory skills into a successful law career one day.

Nalls honed his public speaking skills as a child in church.

For Nalls, who describes himself as someone “who thinks a lot and talks a whole lot,” the problem isn’t coming up with something to say; it’s condensing all of his research and opinions into a speech that will pack an emotional punch.

His goal when crafting and delivering a speech is to be honest with his audience.

Just as he will never choose a topic that doesn’t stir up his own passions, he will never shy away from a potentially controversial topic.

“The younger you are, the easier it is to be genuine in my opinion. When you get older, you’re sort of conditioned to keep to yourself with feelings or topics that people might not feel like talking about. I’m willing to be open and not closed up about what I think,” Nalls said.

His advice to the country that has had an ongoing and often bitter conversation about race as he has come of age is to keep talking.

“The sooner that we realize the power we have and are willing to have the uncomfortable talks, then the sooner that we shoot through the roof in all avenues. We have to step out of our bubbles, hear some things that we don’t agree with and realize that we don’t have to attack them because they don’t share our opinion. That’s when we will get better as a nation,” Nalls said.