For the first time in the history of the Harvard Debate Council, two Black girls from Atlanta have made history as the first Black female duo to win the annual summer debate competition at Harvard University.
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.
Jayla Jackson, 16, is a rising junior at Holy Innocence 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. 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 four years, Fleming has raised over one million dollars to enroll over 100 African-American students into the Harvard debate residency on full scholarship. All four cohorts trained by Fleming’s unique curriculum have 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. The topic of debate was, “Resolved: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization should substantially increase its defense commitments in the Baltic States.”
Fleming emphasizes to his students that the program is “bigger than debate.” He states, “The achievements of this program and our scholars reveals to the world the power of educational equity.” Jackson remarks about the 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 who will begin training in preparation for the Harvard debate residency of 2022.
You can read more about the story of the program and its founder in Brandon P. Fleming’s bestselling book, MISEDUCATED: A Memoir.
Check Out This Behind the Scenes Footage of Jayla Jackson and Emani Stanton.
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ABOUT BRANDON P. FLEMING:
Brandon P. Fleming is an award-winning, Harvard educator and author of MISDUCATED: A Memoir. His story of struggle, success, and service has inspired millions around the world. An at-risk youth and college dropout turned award-winning educator, Fleming is Assistant Debate Coach at Harvard University and Founder/CEO of the Harvard Diversity Project. Fleming was recruited to join the Harvard debate faculty at the age of 27. Harvard later approved Fleming’s proposal to establish a new department within the university system called the Harvard Diversity Project – an unprecedented pipeline program of the Harvard Debate Council. For four years, Fleming has led an executive staff and board that has raised over a million dollars to enroll over 100 students of color into Harvard’s international summer debate residency on full scholarship. Fleming recruits underserved youth with no prior debate experience whom he then trains to compete against hundreds of elite debaters from over 25 different countries around the world. Since the program’s inception in 2017, every cohort trained by Fleming has won the international competition. In 2020, Fleming was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list, and The Root magazine recognized Fleming as one of the top 100 most influential African Americans in the United States. In 2021, Fleming received an honorary doctorate from North Carolina Wesleyan College designating him, Dr. Fleming, Doctor of Humanities.
ABOUT THE HARVARD DEBATE COUNCIL DIVERSITY PROJECT:
A subsidiary of the Harvard Debate Council, Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project (HDP) is an Atlanta-based pipeline program that recruits, trains, and matriculates highly motivated black youth into a summer debate residency at Harvard College. HDP cultivates scholars seeking to further their education at elite colleges & universities.
The goal of the Harvard Diversity Project is to promote 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. Beyond the classroom, the HDP builds integrity-filled leaders who contribute to the community and value service.