Denzel Washington Keeps His $1M Promise to Support HBCU Debate Team in Texas

Actor Denzel Washington continues to make good on a promise to Wiley College, a Historically Black College and University in Marshall, Texas. Wiley College’s prominent debate team recently received the next installment of a $1 million promise the veteran actor made to the team more than a decade ago. 

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 06: Denzel Washington attends the American Film Institute’s 47th Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute to Denzel Washington at Dolby Theatre on June 06, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

The fourth payment of $100,000 was submitted to the organization earlier this month through Washington’s family foundation, revealed an article on the school’s website. The HBCU is home to the “The Great Debaters,” which was popularized thanks to the 2007 film starring and directed by Washington. The now-66-year-old played Professor Melvin B. Tolson, the iconic debate team coach whose efforts took the school on a 10-year-winning streak in the 1930s and pioneered interracial collegiate debates during the Jim Crow era. 

Washington’s initial $1 million agreement was made in 2007 with a follow-up commitment to donate $100,000 per year — which has been ongoing for the past decade. Funds were used to revitalize the team, which had been dismantled following Tolson’s departure from the institution in 1947. Monies also were used to recruit new members and provide them with scholarships.

“The Equalizer” star last visited the school in 2018 for a debate competition, during which he spoke on his foundation and its relationship with the school and its students. “Supporting the next generation of brilliant minds in the art of debate at Wiley College will open so many doors of opportunity for these students during college, career, and beyond,” he told Essence. He added, “We are honored to continue supporting the best and the brightest in the land and look forward to The Great Debaters continuing to do what they do best: win.”

Wiley College president Dr. Herman J Felton, Jr expressed great appreciation for Washington’s donation to the school in a statement, saying, “Being a dominant force as home of `The Great Debaters’ makes us a very attractive option for those skilled in debate, and this financial support further amplifies the benefits of becoming a Wiley debate scholar.”

The team, which consists of 30 team members, took a brief hiatus from competing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they are set to resume competition this fall under the leadership of coach Caleb Williams. 

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