DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) — Aliyah Houston is just 14, but she's already found one of the strongest voices in Illinois.

It has come on suddenly — just like the passion behind each word she recites.

But beyond her fiery speech — the same one Sojourner Truth delivered back in 1851 — lies a kid who's just like many of her classmates at Dennis Lab School in Decatur.

"I still don't believe [any] of this is real," Aliyah said through a laugh.

But here's the thing: it's real because she made it real — with less than 24 hours notice.

"I had two seconds to freak out [and] two minutes to practice the speech," Aliyah said.

Aliyah performed Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" speech in an oratorical competition hosted by the Rainbow Push Coalition on Dec. 15. Her performance earned her second place in the state — and the attention of civil right's icon Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Aliyah will now travel to Chicago again Saturday to introduce Jackson at another event. That's just one of many new opportunities coming her way, leaving her mentor, Rev. Courtney Carson, beaming with pride.

"I'm excited for her," Carson said. "She may be a preacher. She may be a policymaker. She may run for president. Whichever route she takes, she's going to be the best at it."

In the meantime, Aliyah will stay here in Decatur perfecting her craft — so she can take her message wherever she goes.

"We all should be getting the same privileges — especially African-American women," Aliyah said.

If there's someone you would like to nominate for the Spirit of Central Illinois, send Deron Molen an email ( or click here.