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Perspective: A Watershed Moment

An Opportunity We Cannot Waste

June 30, 2020 – Last August, I wrote about Urban Debate and the Civil Rights Experience, reflecting on the role of debaters’ voices amidst the ongoing struggle for equality. In that piece, I stated that “the legacy of racism and social injustice that persisted throughout my parents’ lives has remained ever present in mine” and I pledged my commitment to “refocus equity at the heart of NAUDL’s work.” Today, almost a year later, I have never been more proud to work alongside a number of people who share that goal.

Right now, we find ourselves combating three major crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic fall-out from stay-at-home orders, and the pervasive legacy of racism in our country. However, even amidst these challenges, NAUDL is creating new avenues of our mission.  On June 1, we launched our Alumni Fellows internship program. For the first time, we welcomed 10 diverse college students from across the country to work with us in creating content and resources in support of debate programs — including transitioning most of the activity online for the foreseeable future. This timely opportunity provides debate alumni with a paid internship to gain valuable work skills and experience. It also provides a timely dose of inspiration for our team.

During our virtual welcome reception for the Fellows, we disguised our pain — still reeling from the senseless killing of George Floyd and the mental charge of the protests that followed. However, we understood the importance of showing up and enthusiastically engaging with our young people as they shared their experiences, values, and insights that go well beyond debate rounds. In hearing their excitement in anticipation of the next 10 weeks — and the impact debate has already had on their lives — our spirits were lifted and our resilience was renewed.

With support from our Fellows, we are working strategically to create innovative ways to bring debate to students across the country.  Debate has joined the rest of the world in transitioning to online platforms.  Our students and teachers will be navigating distance learning as they delve into the 2020-21 topic of criminal justice reform and work to process the cultural and systemic injustices it brings to light.  Meanwhile, our NAUDL team is collaborating closely with the Urban Debate Network, as well as the broader debate community, to thoughtfully prepare a highly engaging and supportive debate season. We are more focused than ever on providing opportunities for academic engagement and amplification of student voices.

This is a watershed moment for our country. We cannot let this opportunity go to waste. We must work even harder to support our debaters and coaches — and we will be relying on our community of supporters more than ever.   Thank you for investing and believing in the importance of our work.

Rhonda Haynes
Executive Director

Additional Links of Interest: 

Perspective: Black History and Tomorrow’s Leaders
Equal Justice Initiative
The 1619 Project (The New York Times Magazine)


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