Two Black teens from Atlanta made history as winners of the annual summer debate competition at Harvard University.
The Harvard Debate Council announced that 16-year-old sophomore, Jayla Jackson, and 17-year-old junior, Emani Stanton, trounced their competition by going undefeated for ten rounds before the final debate round.
The Harvard Debate Council, which is one of the oldest campus organizations at Harvard, hosts a summer residential program for hundreds of youth from more than 15 countries. For two weeks the youngsters between middle and high school converge on campus for the prestigious debate tournament. Again as in 2020, this year’s competition was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jackson and Stanton are both members of the Atlanta-based Harvard Diversity Project, an initiative founded by Harvard’s award-winning debate coach and author, Brandon P. Fleming, in 2017.
The girls made history in a number of ways. First of all, Jackson is the tournament’s youngest female winner to date. They made history as the first girl duo ever to go undefeated into the final round. And to put a bold point on their historic dominance of the contest, the final round just happened to be composed only of women debaters. Another first for the tournament.
Now don’t get it twisted, these young ladies didn’t just breeze through every round. In fact, as the competition progressed, Emani explained that her other teammates from Atlanta were hearing that the other competitors were conspiring to share their debate arguments with anyone competing against the pair!
Emani explained, “One of our classmates sent us a picture that said, “Stuff in Emani’s Case” and it had what I was arguing and every single reason why that was wrong or how to beat it. Literally kids had this cool six page document titled “How to Beat Emani and Jayla’s Case,” and still didn't win!
And the pair of Staunton and Jackson only started debating together this year. Jayla never even competed in debate at all prior to this year. And while she concedes that their topic, “NATO should substantially increase its defense commitments in the Baltic states,” might not have been the case she’d have chosen, Jackson is clear that she’s learned how to use her skills to bring necessary change to her own people. She says, “We talk of revolutions as if they're historic, but what Emani and I accomplished isn't a rendition! We're carrying the torch and what we plan to do with this is that we want it to uphold something that was created a long time ago for us. And the thing about this generation is that we're ready to fight. We have the grit, we have the work ethic, we just need leadership, and we need a mission.”
And part of their mission is clear. They get to defend their historic titles next year.
Take a look at the girls during another debate. They may not be rappers, but they have serious flow.
(Photo by Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images)