On Saturday, July 14 Atlanta’s Great Debaters returned home from Harvard University as champions. The 25 young scholars participated in an annual residency hosted by the Harvard Debate Council. The summer institute concluded with a single-elimination tournament, of which students of the Atlanta-based Harvard Debate Council Diversity (HDCDP) pipeline were victorious.
Jordan Thomas from Grady High School brought home the first-place victory for the entire competition while 10 of the 12 Atlanta teams advanced to octo-finals, six progressed to the quarter-finals and two continued to the semi-finals.
Jordan shares, “Being a young, middle class, Black, public school student from the South created a stigma that automatically set me back in comparison to the competition, most of who were international students or from predatory schools in the Northeast,”Thomas said. “But I was determined to represent my city and my story. I wanted people to see where I came from and how I could keep up with them. To bring the championship back to Atlanta was the most satisfying feeling, and to walk onto the campus of one of the most elite universities in the world and meet personal and council goals, brings a unique and new satisfaction that I’ve never experienced.”
Each summer, the Harvard Debate Council hosts their prestigious summer residential program at Harvard University for nearly 400 students from around the world. Students undergo a daily 10-hour academic regimen, learning from highly accomplished debate professors and instructors who engage them through rigorous curricula centered on research, analysis, argumentation and political science.
The program concludes with a single-elimination tournament that allows students to apply the acquired knowledge and skills in competition. The HDCDP students were divided into 12 teams and competed against youth from across the world including Asia, Europe and Russia. Many debate faculty noted that from the outset, the Atlanta teams dominated the competition.
Preparing for Greatness in Atlanta
Six months prior to heading to Harvard University, the young Atlanta scholars vigorously prepared. They sacrificed their Saturdays to learn the rudiments of public speaking, argumentation, critical thinking and more from Brandon Fleming, Harvard University Assistant Debate Coach and founder of HDCDP. Of over 150 Metro Atlanta applicants, the 25 students were selected as the inaugural HDCDP class. Most of the students are inexperienced debaters from 16 different schools in the metro-Atlanta region.
“Thanks to our executive board, along with individual and corporate funders including Chick-fil-A Foundation, The Coca-Cola Company, UPS, Publix Supermarkets, The Art Institute of Atlanta, and MBC Concessions, we raised over $100,000 in just six months to fund the tuition, travel and room and board for all 25 of our students,” said Fleming. Recognizing the lack of African-American presence at the Harvard summer program in previous years and the power the art of debate can have, Fleming established the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project as an Atlanta-based pipeline that would recruit, train and send students of color to Harvard on full scholarship.
Thomas credits his victory and the council’s success to the encouraging, family nature of the HDCDP. “What separates the Diversity Project from other academic groups is that it is not a competition between each other, rather it is an incubator of intellect and a cultivator of brilliance,” he said. “You can find nothing but support in this family in everything that you do. This family brings people together. No matter which school we attended or socioeconomic status, we all fall under the same umbrella and accomplished our goal together.”
“No other activity [outside of academic debate] imbues young people with a skill set that will train them to be effective students, communicators and citizens. Debate combines competition with advocacy, making it rewarding and worthwhile for even the most reluctant students to learn to research, read, speak and write successfully,” says Tripp Rebrovick, Ph.D. Head Coach of Debate at Harvard University.
The Diversity Project will open applications for the next cohort to train at Harvard in Summer 2019. With the application not opening until August 15, more than 350 nominations have already been submitted.
About the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project: Built on scholarship, leadership and culture, the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project (HDCDP) was created to raise the young social and political voice in urban Atlanta and to matriculate African-American students into the Harvard Debate Council’s residential summer program at Harvard. Brandon Fleming, Harvard University Assistant Coach of Debate, serves as the program’s executive director alongside a 20-member executive board. The inaugural class of the HDCDP began in January 2018 with 25 students. This accelerated academic program is a subsidiary of the Harvard Debate Council at Harvard University. More information can be found at www.harvarddcdp.org. Join the social media conversation on Facebook and LinkedIn at Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project and Instagram: @hdcdiversity.