Two teenagers from Atlanta made history on July 17 by becoming the first Black girl duo to win Harvard’s international summer debate competition.
Up against more than 100 debaters from more than 15 countries around the world, 16-year-old Jayla Jackson, and 17-year-old Emani Stanton went undefeated at the weeklong competition, the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project announced on July 18. Jackson, who will be a junior this fall at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, and Stanton, who will be a senior at North Atlanta High School, took home the top prize in the debate “Resolved: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization should substantially increase its defense commitments in the Baltic States.”
The competition takes place every summer, when hundreds of high school students from around the world meet at Harvard to debate, although the competition took place virtually this year due to the pandemic.
The Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project recruits and trains talented Black youth in the Atlanta area to compete in the program, including Jackson and Stanton.
“We did it AGAIN!” the program said on Instagram, after the girls won with a 10-0 record. The program had nine teams make the 16-team playoffs, and Jackson and Stanton emerged on top.
“Thousands” of Atlanta students apply to take part in the training program, the program’s founder says, although only 25 or 30 are selected. The program strives to “educational equity by creating opportunities for underserved youth to gain exposure and access to academic training that will distinguish them as top candidates in the college admissions process.” Training for next year’s competition will begin in August, and students will meet on Saturdays. For 2022, 22 Black students have been named to the team.
“The achievements of this program and our scholars reveal to the world the power of educational equity,” said Brandon Fleming, who founded the program in 2017. “We want to use our platform to show people what’s possible when the playing field is leveled for those who need it most.” His teams have gone on to win the summer debate competition all four years.
The Harvard Debate Council is one of the oldest campus organizations at Harvard University. The university asked Fleming to start the program in order to increase diversity on the campus.
Companies like Chick-fil-A Foundation, the Coca-Cola Company, Kaiser Permanente, UPS, Publix Super Markets, the Atlanta Hawks and Turner Broadcasting help fund the program.
Producer Franklin Leonard reacted to the victory on social media, writing “I can’t exactly act surprised that two black girls from Atlanta are great debaters, but it’s good to see Harvard recognizes game too.”