Emani Stanton,17, and Jayla Jackson, 16, made history after becoming the first black female team to win Harvard’s international debate competition. The debate is an annual summer event at Harvard University.
The two girls competed against over 100 debaters and went undefeated in all 10 rounds of competition. The winning topic of this years debate was “Resolved: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization should substantially increase its defense commitments in the Baltic States.”
Because of Covid-19, this year’s debate was virtual, but that didn’t stopped hundreds of students from across the globe. Participants come from over 15 countries to learn during the summer residency and show off their newfound skills in the ending debate.
“The bar has been raised, and that’s a good thing for people and for girls of color all around the world. It is still mind-blowing for us. We went in there, and we did it,” said Jayla Jackson.
How Jackson and Stanton Applied
Both girls are from Atlanta, Ga. Stanton attends North Atlantic High School, and Jackson is a rising junior at Holy Innocence Episcopal. They met through the Harvard Diversity Project, which allows undeserved Black youth from Atlanta to be taught debating skills in residency at Harvard and compete in the annual competition.
There is an application process to be allowed into the Harvard Diversity Program. Thousands of highly motivated kids from across Atlanta apply each year, but only 25-30 are accepted. The program allows students to apply for scholarships and over $1 million has been raised to support the debaters.
They found that they made a good debate team because Emani Stanton’s analytical brain was a perfect match for Jayla Jackson’s creative mindset. But this amazing team only decided to become partners one week before the start of the competition!
During this year’s competition they were able to lean on each other even though they were virtual. When the debate got tough, Jackson would pray for them. Stanton says that her partner’s faith helped her get through the stress of the debate.
The Harvard Diversity Program was started by Harvard alum, author and award winning debate coach Brandon Fleming in 2017. Fleming wanted to develop inclusion on the Harvard campus. “The achievements of this program and our scholars reveal to the world the power of educational equity. “We want to use our platform to show people what’s possible when the playing field is leveled for those who need it most.”
For the last four years, students from the diversity project have won the competition, which is an amazing achievement because the program has only be around for four years. Next year’s class has already started training for 2022.
After their win, Jackson spoke to reporters saying: “We want to use our platform to show people what’s possible when the playing field is leveled for those who need it most.”