Double-Talk: Two Black Girl Debaters Make History at Harvard University's Summer Competition

The Atlanta teens are the first Black female duo to win the annual summer debate competition, earning the Harvard Diversity Project's 4th straight championship.

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Photo: Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project

No debate about it; Black female excellence won Harvard University’s annual summer debate competition this year. Sixteen-year-old Jayla Jackson and seventeen-year-old Emani Stanton just made history as the first Black female duo to win the Harvard Debate Council’s annual summer debate competition at Harvard University.

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Per a press release sent to The Root:

Each summer, the Harvard Debate Council, one of the oldest campus organizations at Harvard University, hosts a summer residential program for hundreds of gifted youths from over 15 countries around the world who converge on campus for two weeks of intensive study, which culminates in a program-wide debate tournament. This year’s residency and competition were held virtually due to COVID-19 protocols.

The Atlanta-based teens are members of the Harvard Diversity Project, also based in Atlanta and founded by the university’s award-winning debate coach and author Brandon P. Fleming—a 2020 The Root 100 honoree—who established the Diversity Project in 2017 “as a means to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.” Recruiting underserved Black students with little to no debate experience to his unique weekend curriculum, Fleming trains them over the course of a one year, the culmination being the Harvard debate residency each summer. To date, he has raised funding to provide full scholarships to over 100 students—and impressively, in the four years of the Harvard Diversity Project, all four cohorts have won Harvard’s international debate competition, a success Fleming says is “bigger than debate.”

“The achievements of this program and our scholars reveals to the world the power of educational equity,” Fleming explains.

This year, the program’s win was historic, as Jackson, a junior at Atlanta’s Holy Innocence Episcopal School and Stanton, a senior at North Atlanta High School, won the fourth consecutive championship as the first female team to do so, securing their undefeated 10-0 record. The duo’s winning topic? “Resolved: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization should substantially increase its defense commitments in the Baltic States.”

“We want to use our platform to show people what’s possible when the playing field is leveled for those who need it most,” said Jackson of the milestone.

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