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Atlantan Jordan Thomas, a student at Grady High School, brought home the first-place victory for the single-elimination (debate) tournament which concluded Harvard Debate Council’s summer institute, which students of the Atlanta-based Harvard Debate Council Diversity (HDCDP) pipeline participated in. While 10 of the 12 Atlanta teams advanced to octo-finals, six progressed to the quarter-finals and two continued to the semi-finals. 

The 25 young scholars participated in an annual residency hosted by the Harvard Debate Council. 

“Being a young, middle class, Black, public school student from the South created a stigma that automatically set me back in comparison to the competition, most of who were international students or from predatory schools in the Northeast,” Thomas said. “But I was determined to represent my city and my story. I wanted people to see where I came from and how I could keep up with them. To bring the championship back to Atlanta was the most satisfying feeling, and to walk onto the campus of one of the most elite universities in the world and meet personal and council goals, brings a unique and new satisfaction that I’ve never experienced.” 

Each summer, the Harvard Debate Council hosts its summer residential program at Harvard University for nearly 400 students from around the world. Students undergo a daily 10-hour academic regimen, learning from debate professors and instructors who engage them through rigorous curricula centered on research, analysis, argumentation and political science. 

The program concludes with a single-elimination tournament that allows students to apply the acquired knowledge and skills in competition. The HDCDP students were divided into 12 teams and competed against youth from across the world including Asia, Europe and Russia. Many debate faculty noted that from the outset, the Atlanta teams dominated the competition. 

HDCDP was created to raise the young social and political voice in urban Atlanta and to matriculate African-American students into the Harvard Debate Council’s residential summer program at Harvard. Of over 150 Metro Atlanta applicants, the 25 students were selected as the inaugural HDCDP class. Most of the students are inexperienced debaters from 16 different schools in the metro-Atlanta region. Brandon Fleming, Harvard University Assistant Coach of Debate, serves as the program’s executive director alongside a 20-member executive board. 

“What separates the Diversity Project from other academic groups is that it is not a competition between each other, rather it is an incubator of intellect and a  cultivator of brilliance,” Thomas said.  “You can find nothing but support in this family in everything that you do. This family brings people together. No matter which school we attended or socioeconomic status, we all fall under the same umbrella and accomplished our goal together.” 

“No other activity [outside of academic debate] imbues young people with a skill set that will train them to be effective students, communicators and citizens. Debate combines competition with advocacy, making it rewarding and worthwhile for even the most reluctant students to learn to research, read, speak and write successfully,” said Tripp Rebrovick, Ph.D., head coach of Debate at Harvard University. 

The Diversity Project will open applications for the next cohort to train at Harvard in Summer 2019. 

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