As they jumped off buses from around the area to much fanfare and even a marching band and ROTC escort, Detroit teens were welcomed Friday to the city’s Mumford High School with celebrity treatment, pomp and circumstance. The VIP fanfare was to celebrate “Debate in the D,” which was the first collegiate debate exhibition between two Michigan debate teams and two HBCU debate teams in a Detroit school.
Jimmy Settles, UAW-Ford vice president, said he came up with the idea when he attended an HBCU debate exhibition in Hartford, Conn., about three years, and decided the UAW should sponsor a debate with HBCU students in Detroit.
“We don’t have debate teams in Detroit public schools (except Cass Technical High School), and I think we need it for many reasons. Our students have many talents and this is one of them, Settles said. “Our students need to see how to have a disagreement and walk away from it shaking hands. They need to understand how to strengthen their arguments and do the research so they’ll know what they’re talking about. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you get called out. I got my team involved and here we are. I think I’m more excited about it than any kid.”
Award-winning debaters from Spelman College and Morehouse College went hard against competitors from the University of Michigan-Flint and Central Michigan University while exercising persuasion, logic and wit to debate the pros and cons of public school versus charter school education. In the audience, students held up signs of their favorite HBCUs as if they were attending a national political convention.
The arguments were heated, passionate and humorous, evident when students roared with laughter as the debaters eloquently told their competitors to kindly take a seat when they attempted to interrupt with an opposing point out of turn.
“This is a great event, especially for the inner city,” said Georgina Taylor, an 18-year-old Mumford High senior, who was selected to win two Lil Wayne concert tickets in pre-debate fun. Her fellow debater, Joelle Sanders, 17, who’s a Cass Technical High School junior, also took home two Future concert tickets. “This is great exposure for us; we need more events like this.”
Kevin Fite, who is known around Detroit for the running the award-winning Detroit City Chess Club in Detroit schools and the Detroit Institute of Arts, said he wanted the event to be festive. It was his idea for the young people to hold the signs to make the event energetic.
“We wanted it to be fun,” he said. It seems to be working. You saw all the smiles as they were getting off the buses and some of them almost fell over watching the girls dance with the band. I wanted to inspire them to look to do things they might not normally do.”
Angela Prince, Mumford High’s principal, beamed with pride at the event and reminded students they had UAW-Ford to thank for the debate exhibition, the recent visit from the cast of “Motown the Musical” and its free “Saturdays in the D” program that teaches about 200 students journalism and other liberal arts skills.
“I had the pleasure of meeting the debaters, and I can tell you they are some of the smartest people I know. They make smart look cool,” she told the students. “When you see them up here today, know that anyone in this audience can be on this stage and be a debater. Debating can take you places. These students have traveled the world talking, and you know you all love to talk.”