Two Black girls from Atlanta have made history as the first Black female duo to win the annual summer debate competition at Harvard University. This will be the first time in the history of the Harvard Debate Council.
Jayla Jackson is 16 years rising junior at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. Emani Stanton, 17, is a rising senior at North Atlanta High School.
Both girls are current members of the Atlanta-based Harvard Diversity Project, an initiative founded by Harvard’s award-winning debate coach and author Brandon P. Fleming.
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.
In 2017, Harvard accepted Fleming’s proposal to establish the Diversity Project as a means to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.
Fleming recruits underserved Black youth in Atlanta with little to no prior debate experience. He trains them every weekend for one year in Atlanta leading up to the Harvard summer program, exposing them to higher-level academic disciplines.
In 4 years, he has raised over $1 million to enroll over 100 African-American students into the Harvard debate residency on full scholarship, and all trained Fleming’s unique curriculum has gone on to win the international debate competition at Harvard.
This year, Jackson and Stanton secured the 4th consecutive championship for the Atlanta-based team with an undefeated 10-0 record in a debate topic “Resolved: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization should substantially increase its defense commitments in the Baltic States.”
Fleming often emphasizes to his students that the program is bigger than the debate. The achievements of his scholars reveal to the world the power of educational equity.”
Jackson commented after their historic win: “We want to use our platform to show people what’s possible when the playing field is leveled for those who need it most.”
The Harvard Diversity Project has already accepted a new cohort that will begin training in preparation for the Harvard debate residency of 2022.