Emani Stanton, 17, and Jayla Jackson, 16, made history at the recent Harvard International debate competition.
Every summer, Harvard hosts a debate competition for students around the world to participate. Over the last four years, the Atlanta-based, Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project has been recruiting and training Black youth, so that they may compete. The project is run by Brandon Fleming, who is working relentlessly to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity. Every weekend, he trains Black youth with little to no debating experience and exposes them to higher level academic disciplines. This year marks the fourth year in a row that students under his program have won the competition. However, things were slightly different this year.
After debating against more than 100 other debaters from around the globe, Emani and Jayla not only took home the win but remained undefeated for all 10 rounds! As the first black female duo to win Harvard’s prestigious competition, these girls have significantly raised the bar and act as inspiration and role models to girls of colour everywhere.
The girls met through Fleming’s program, where they were both recruited to sharpen their skills. They quickly realised that Emani’s analytical brain perfectly complemented Jayla’s more creative thinking – together, they formed a trailblazing duo! Their coach proudly commented that their historic win only proves to the world how important educational equity is. When the playing field is levelled, anything is possible.
The girls admitted that each time they won a round, the pressure would rise and the number of challenges they faced, would increase too. However, they saw their fear, anxiety and progressions as a blessing, and that mindset allowed them to persevere and push through till the very end. They took each win as a catalyst to have not only more female representation but more Black girls dominating such academic spaces.
Jayla highly encourages people to get into debate, saying that it has altered the way she thinks. What she would usually take as face value or blindly accept and follow, she now questions, allowing her to create unique and diverse perspectives about the world. The girls both agree that debate has been life-changing and such a confidence builder. They intend to keep being leaders and voices for young women of colour even after they graduate.
Through this entire experience, Emani and Jayla have found lifelong friends in each other and have formed a strong bond.