Two Black teens from Atlanta have made history after winning the annual summer debate competition at Harvard University. Since its inception in 2017, this is the first Black girl duo to win the debate competition. Jayla Jackson, a 16-year-old at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, and Emani Stanton, a 17-year-old attending North Atlanta High School, won the Harvard Debate Council’s debate competition with an undefeated record of 10-0.
The council in a Twitter announcement said the duo has “shown the world what’s possible when the playing field is leveled!”
Every summer, the Harvard Debate Council, one of the university’s oldest organizations on campus, hosts the program for hundreds of talented students from several countries around the world. Students live on Harvard University’s campus for two weeks before they compete in the debate tournament. Due to the pandemic, this year’s competition was held virtually.
The debate’s topic was “Resolved: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization should substantially increase its defense commitments in the Baltic States.”
Award-winning debate coach Brandon P. Fleming founded the Harvard Diversity Project in 2017 to promote inclusion and diversity on campus. Fleming, before the Harvard summer program, looks for Black youth in Atlanta who do not have much experience debating. He trains them every weekend for a year in Atlanta before transporting them to Harvard for the two-week intense debate training program.
In the past four years, Fleming has raised more than $1 million and enrolled more than 100 Black students in the two-week Harvard debate residency program on a full scholarship. “The achievements of this program and our scholars reveals to the world the power of educational equity,” Fleming said. “We want to use our platform to show people what’s possible when the playing field is leveled for those who need it most.”
A new group has been accepted by the Harvard Diversity Project for the program’s next debate in 2022. Jackson, commenting about her win, said, “We want to use our platform to show people what’s possible when the playing field is leveled for those who need it most.”