First Diversity Recruitment and
Retention in Debate Ideafest
Edited by Gordon R. Mitchell
University of Pittsburgh
Published by Office of the Dean
University of Pittsburgh
Ideafest convened at
June 10-11, 1997
Final panel (The Impact)
Sean Banks, Kenya Hansford, Johnny Jester, Edward Lee,
Eric Mathes, Krsna Tibbs, Carol Winkler, Bill Newnam
Editor's note: Bill Newnam's introduction was not videotaped. After this introduction, Tuna Snider suggested that the rest of the discussion be recorded and following a short break, a video camera was assembled and the panel discussion proceeded.
Kenya Hansford: Hello, my name is Kenya Hansford; I came from Harper High School in the Atlanta public school system. I'm now at business school here at Emory. The way that debate helped me; it taught me how to speak, and that's something that you might not learn in the Atlanta public school system, unless you are taught it. It also taught me how to present myself to different types of people that I hadn't even been exposed to. Lastly, it gave me the opportunity to meet Melissa Wade. I think she has made a great influence on me.
Eric Mathes: Hi, my name is Eric Mathes, I graduated from Harper-Archer here in the Atlanta public schools. I now attend Georgia State, where I'm a debater. The way debate helped me ... whew ... this will be a long one ... Before debate, I was a knuckle-headed kid, always getting in trouble. One thing debate did teach me how to do was to lie. I do that pretty well. My first time coming to a debate camp was kind of a hectic one for some people: Ed, Melissa ... I gave a lot of people headaches at that time. By the end, we had the tournament, and we went 1-3, and I figured out that we could actually beat people. So for the following year I committed myself to debating and being a model student. And in addition to meeting people like Betty Maddox, Larry Moss, Melissa Wade, and other people who have helped change my life around. The following year, I graduated, which was an honor; it allowed me to be one of the lab instructors here. Because of Melissa, I was able to meet David Cheshier who gave me an opportunity to debate. Debate has helped me so much that if it wasn't for debate, I probably would not have graduated from high school, and I'd probably be in jail or somewhere where I shouldn't have been. But debate gave me the opportunity, it gave me a second chance in life, and I thank everyone involved.
Shanara Reid: Hi everybody. My name's Shanara Reid. I graduated from Therrell High School here under Dr. Larry Moss, and I'm a rising junior here at Emory University under Melissa Wade. I've talked to everybody about what my debate experience was, and how I was before that. I was very quiet; I had very low self-esteem. That's a complete turnaround from what I am now. Debate helps you in your academic classes. But for me, what it gave me was a sense of power, a sense of myself; it helped develop my personality. I think I would have been so different. I don't think that I might not have gone to college, but I probably would not have gone to Emory University; I probably would have been at some other school where there wasn't a debate team, where I didn't have the kind of family support that I have here with Melissa. I think that's a big difference compared to where I could have gone. I think I went down a different road. I'm not sure what that road was, because I got into debate at such an early age. I think that for me, debate served a purpose, not only to get me to college, but to help me with all of my relationships with other people, especially with different cultural groups. I went to an all black high school, I went to an all-black middle school, I went to an all-black elementary school, and I had no contact with anyone from another race beside African-American. If anything, debate taught me how to deal with other cultures and to be able to survive in this world. It taught me not to tolerate other people but to actually make friends and trust other people. That's something I probably would not have done. Dr. Moss talked earlier about not giving people ammunition to use against you. I was taught at a very young age that anyone who was not African-American was the enemy, and that's how they have to be considered, and that you shouldn't trust anyone who wasn't African-American. That was a lesson that I learned at a very young age. I've learned that that's not true; that there are people like Melissa Wade, who genuinely care, and who will do whatever possible to make you a success. That's something that saved me from being a totally bitter person about race relations, and I think that the most profound thing that happened to me, was my recognition that debate is not just about the winning; it's about what it can do for you in your personal life. I thank God that that happened to me, because I think it would have been a completely different situation.
Sean Banks: Hello, everyone, my name is Sean Banks. I, too, had the same problem as Shanara, going to Therrell High School. When I first entered debate, I was very closed-minded. The first time I went to camp at Michigan, I was very scared because I had never really been around a large group of people who wasn't like me. I didn't know what to do; I felt like I was going to be fighting, or there was going to be a lot of racial problems. I guess I was scared because as soon as I got there, there had been a race riot and everything. Debate taught me how to work with other people and how to become open-minded, to show that everyone isn't evil, that everyone doesn't necessarily dislike somebody from the other race, everyone is not racist, everyone doesn't just like their kind, to show that everyone cares. And also to show that other kids of the opposite race had the same fear, and that they felt that, wow, what's going to happen here with this black person? Is he going to be in a gang, or something like that? Debate helps everyone. It helped me because it allowed me to speak better, to become a better person, to be more political, because a lot of people in my community don't necessarily know what goes on outside of their homes, outside of their communities. Debate has helped me shine above others in the sense that many people aren't able to let go of what they're used to, and become used to something different, to adapt; to change. Debate showed me how to change, and showed me that some of the things that I was doing wrong were not the things to do, showed me how to do things better. I believe that debate is something that you should do, or that you should be able to get into, for the simple fact that it breaks the barrier between youth and youth racism, between black kids and white kids and kids of other races; it breaks that barrier and helps everyone. And that's basically how debate has helped me besides school and everything. It's helped me to excel in school, and helped me to excel in every realm possible because of the simple fact that it helps you think critically, and helps you to observe everything. It helps me at home because I get to weigh everything my mother is saying; you know, what her reasons are, or just everything; it helps a lot.
Edward Lee: I am Edward Lee. I am a graduate from Charles Harper High School here in Atlanta, and also a graduate at the University of Alabama. Starting this fall I will be a graduate assistant for the University of Alabama's debate team. For me, debate has become synonymous with opportunity. It has provided me with many opportunities that people I grew up with were not afforded. I was listening to yesterday, and on the drive home, I thought about something someone said at the conference. Someone said that debate saves lives. When I think that there have been four people that I graduated elementary school with, who I'm close friends with, who have died in a span of less than seven years. There have been many others who are currently in jail, with no opportunity. By luck, I'm not there. And it's because of the opportunities that debate has provided me, and debate has provided the other people who are sitting here; it has also given me not only a political view, but it has radicalized my political view. I now understand that it's not me; it's us, that all of our oppressions are inter-linked. It's irrelevant if I am no longer judged by the color of my skin but by the content of my character. There are still women who are oppressed because of their sex. There are still other women and men who are oppressed because of their sexual orientation, and until we all say that we will not accept any of those oppressions, we are all still oppressed. I am lucky that debate has provided me with many strong women in my background. I was introduced to debate by Ms. Betty Maddox at Harper High School, who was my English teacher, and became my role model for life. And at the University of Alabama, Dr. Carrie Crenshaw, well, Carrie, my mentor and friend, introduced me debate. I have learned that my education has come from debate. My education has come from debate. What I know and my political views have come from debate. I think it saved my life, and it has saved many others.
Krsna Tibbs: My name is Krsna Tibbs. I was a policy debater at Therrell High School. I agree pretty much with everything that they have just said. I have the same educational background. I went to an all-black elementary school, middle school, and high school. I can't tell you how much debate has affected me. Like all of you are saying, debate has helped develop my personality and had a dramatic effect on my life. All of the things that I do on a daily basis I attribute to debate. I use the skills I developed in debate constantly, and I know that I'll use them in the future. One point I want to bring up, I was reading the brochure that Melissa gave out, not because she said to read it, but she said you should read these quotes. When I was reading it, one of the quotes I think I take the hardest was the one about how that debate allowed him to have certain goals that they didn't think were accessible, are now accessible; that they feel they can now attain these goals, and that's true with me. When I fist got started in debate, I didn't have peers in college, let alone anyone that debated in college. Through debate I was able to network with different debaters throughout the nation, and many who are my friends today, and now I'm debating in college. Debate has completely opened up my mind; it's completely changed me, and has allowed me to know that there's a different world out there. It has raised my standard of what I think could be a success, and even changed my mind about what goals I think I can attain. I think all of that is attributed to debate.
Johnny Jester: My name is Johnny Jester, and I attend Therrell High School. I am a second-year debater under Dr. Moss. Debate, for me is precious. I grew up in southwest Atlanta, in a low economic neighborhood, and I went to an all-black elementary school, like everybody else, and when I was smaller, all of my friends went to play on the football, basketball, baseball teams. I was never really good at any of those, but when debate came to my life it was something that I could be good at, and it was something I could show myself in. Debate for me has been the way I express myself, and it has changed my life completely. The kids I went to elementary and middle school with, some of those kids aren't even in school anymore. I have one very close friend who doesn't even attend school anymore. Some of them have children. When I say children, I do mean in the plural sense children. They're sixteen or seventeen, and when I look back, that could have been me. That could have been me pushing like three strollers, that could have been me not being in school. Debate was just a turnaround for me. I realized that you could either live this all of your life or you could do something to better yourself. Debate has also opened my mind. Just like many of the people up here before, when I started debate, I thought white people had something serious against black people. A lot of my parents and friends say, you know, you can't trust white people. Now that I've gotten out and I have white friends, especially meeting people like Ms. Wade and Jim, Jamie [McKown], and all of these people who are white people who have helped me, without debate I wouldn't have met people; I would still be the same closed-minded person who was coming out of middle school. I think debate is a part of my life that I don't think I could live without it. If I had to do it all over again, if I had not chosen debate, I don't think that I would be sitting before you today. I think I would probably be somewhere pushing a stroller.
Carol Winkler: I'm Carol Winkler, I'm pushing two strollers. I began debating at a high school up in a farm community in the mountains of North Carolina. In a class of about 1,000, ten went on to college. I debated for ten years and it fundamentally changed my life to the point that I can't imagine myself divorced from my debate experience at this point. I guess what makes me a little bit different from the panelists is that I left debate because I did think that it was a sexist, racist activity, and I became very frustrated. I wanted to be a debate coach, but decided that I didn't want to do that, because I viewed the activity as racist and sexist. I then went into the "real world," where I went into an academic environment, and I quickly found myself in very similar situations where white men dominated all of the environments I was in. I am now chair of a department where I rarely interact with people who are not white men. So, I was in the same situation; I guess what I take from debate, and something that is unique that women take from debate that others do not, is the ability to respond to discrimination or harassment in the workplace or in society that they wouldn't be able to otherwise. Having been through the experience of sexual harassment in the workplace, I've discovered that a woman with debate skills is a very scary thing for those that actually practice sexual harassment. Nevertheless, it has resulted in a lot more change than my university would have considered had I not had those skills. I think at this point I'm basically in a love/hate relationship with the activity, in saying that it taught me how to deal with many of the things that I have to continue to deal with on a daily basis. And I very much love the people that I came to know. The hate side is that I would have loved to stay in it, because it's probably the single activity in my life that I care for the most.
Melissa Wade: I would like you to ask them questions. What do you want to know after two days? Is there anything you'd like to say to them?
Edward Lee: Not all at once.
Tuna Snider: I guess that many of us have been concerned with finding the pivotal people who have made such a contribution to your lives. I am not assuming that there will people like Betty and Mr. Moss in every school that you go to, but do you think that there are teachers out there that we can reach to try and duplicate some of the wonderful things that you've seen done? Do you have confidence that they're there, that we can go out and try to find them and try to work with them?
Sharara Reid: That [Larry Moss] was not my only influence in high school. He was very, very pivotal to the changes I made in high school, but there are other teachers who are very much interested in caring about what happens to students, and a lot of the confidence that I got came from debate. But more of it came from the nurturing I got at Therrell High School. I said that I went to an all African-American high school, and that may not have afforded me all the opportunities that I would have if I would have gone to another school, but debate helped with that. But there were teachers who were very into allowing us to know what was necessary to go to college, and some of those people were very influential in my life, besides just Dr. Moss and Melissa, who I've noted in other opportunities. But I think that definitely, the teachers are there; it's just finding the teachers, finding who's interested, finding who cares. They're there. If the students are there, the teachers are there.
Johnny Jester: I think that there are a millions of them. There are so many teachers out there, so many people in positions of power that care. Me personally, I think that the thing that stops people who care from helping is the fear of failure, the fear that they'll help this person so much, and then this person won't grow. It takes a very special person to ever become a teacher, or an instructor, or a mentor. If a person has that in them, to become a teacher, or an instructor, or a mentor, then that same person is very capable of doing the same things that Dr. Moss and Ms. Wade do, and all those people do; it's just the opportunity, that's all.
Ede Warner: I have a question. Bill said earlier that fifteen years ago, I was one of very few black folks, faces like mine. Fifteen years later, I'm one of the very few faces like mine in the black coaching ranks. And you guys, and gals, and women, and men ... if I could use the right terminology ... [laughter] ... you have said some things that have touched me very deeply. I'd like to hear from each of you what you are willing to do to make sure that fifteen years from now, there will be more than just me sitting up here.
Shanara Reid: Part of it is that we're here, participating in the activity. I think that we can't try to count it or try to quantify our commitment to giving back. I think the fact that Krsna and Edward and I and Kenya and Eric have stayed in the activity after high school says a lot. I quit my senior year in high school; I was tired of the racism, tired of the sexism. I got to Emory, didn't want to debate my freshman year. Melissa sat me down and she said, "You have an obligation; there aren't that many African-American females in the activity." Cleopatra Jones who was one of the only African-American females to participate in a long time was about to graduate, and I was one of the only ones, and Kenya [Hansford] was one of the only ones, and we have an obligation to give back in that manner. I've chosen to go beyond that and participate with the Soros Foundation and the Urban Debate League, trying to set up programs in New York, and I still go out and coach different high schools in the Atlanta public school area, and in junior high. But that's something that I've chosen to do myself, and I don't think we can quantify how much we give back, but that's my way of giving back. I think that just staying with the activity past high school is giving back enough. It's very, very hard. It's very stressful as an activity where you are one of a few faces. You have to go through the emotional turmoil that comes along with that. Anybody that chooses not to do that, I still respect them, because they did it in high school, and if you choose not to do that in college, I don't look down on them for not doing that, because it's hard.
Edward Lee: When I say that I owe my life to this activity, I mean that, and I have been contemplating over the years exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life. I thought about the law, and that doesn't seem to be very rewarding for me. I don't understand what the impact would be in participating in that. I always come back to what can I do to have the greatest influence on people like me, in the same situation I was in. It seems to me that that decision, the answer always comes down to being a teacher, being there, and where they are, in their situation, and wallowing in it with them. That is what I've decided to do with my life. I'm going to be a teacher, with those students, and wallow in it with them. I won't become rich, but I will be fulfilled, because I am at least adding my piece to the puzzle of what the answer is to solve all our problems. That's my personal choice; that may not be the best answer for everyone, but that's my answer. We all have to ask what we are capable of giving to solve the problem; that's what I'm capable of giving, and that's what I'll give.
Kenya Hansford: My answer is totally different from any of the answers you've heard. One, because I'm not as hard-core debate as everyone up here. But I think that by showing kids how to apply what they learn in debate, even if they don't want to be hard core debaters is just as important. Kids need to know that there's another avenue to do this, and the curriculum I'm working on for Melissa, it pulls in things other than in debate into debate for black children. One part of the curriculum is talking about Harriet Tubman: how do we tie her into debate? One way of doing that is that you coach other people on your team. Harriet Tubman didn't just run to freedom and stay; she ran back and got other people. That's one tool that children in our communities have to learn in order for debate to be successful, because we have to run back like Edward, like Shanara, and be sure that we pick up other people and that we have them to be as successful in debate as we are. But I think that's also an important factor to it, too: sometimes we do scare kids away. Sometimes kids are scared, and this isn't the activity for them. But these two weeks of camp can be still be used for other reasons, for scholarships to schools like Emory, they could be used to go on to do law, or whatever they choose to do, because they're learning life skills here, they're learning how to speak, they're learning how to present themselves. Those skills can be used in corporate America, without a doubt. Making successful people, I think is our goal here, not just debaters, but also people that might not debate.
John Meany: Almost all of you have used the term debate to describe your experience, but it's clear that implied is something more than one thinks about when one thinks about debate. It's not the debate round itself, or the preparation, but its the social context and cultural context associated with the institute, or tournament experience, or experience at both in high school or college. In this particular program, where there is a limited amount of time to spend with students, if there is a tradeoff that one needs to make to create a valuable connection with students, do you think it's better to focus on a social and cultural connection, to make an institute a worthwhile experience, or is it better to focus on the academics associated with a more rigorous approach to policy debate?
Sean Banks: I honestly feel that it has to be both, not just one, because you can't just put a group of kids somewhere and expect them to work and be focused on something, and they're having concerns about getting along with other kids. You can't expect them to go, you give them an assignment and say, OK, you go to the library, you and five other kids, and go work on this. Then they have fears about working with this person; they won't get anything done. It's equally important, because the social aspect, like a lot of people said, some people have dropped out because of the social aspect, because of the racism, because of the sexism or just the dislikes. So it's important to have a camp, or an institution, where there is an attempt to work on the social aspects as well as, at least equal to the fact that you have to make sure that, to let them know that, OK, you have social problems, or you have social differences, but they will be worked out, but you're also giving a purpose to it all, so it's equally important.
Krsna Tibbs: I believe that tremendously. I think that interaction and networking, or whatever, you can begin to understand other peoples' cultures of people that have a completely different background. A lot of people that come to this institute don't get to have this ability to interact with other people, to have lectures with them, debate with them, to talk with them. So I think it's extremely important to come here, because you not only work on debate; it's also a place to meet friends and talk to different people on different issues, not just debate issues.
Johnny Jester: I also think it's important to have a big focus. What did it for me was the fact that I was able to sit in a round with people who were not like me, or were not like people I'd been around all my life, and notice that the same things I was having trouble with, they were having trouble with the exact same thing, and to know that there is no superiority or inferiority; they're the same. It's important for people to understand that it's an equal playing field, and that you only get out of it what you put into it. So I think it's equally important to stress the social aspects, because if I'm not able to get along with this person, I won't be able to work with this person. It's also important to stress the academics. When you go to the library to work with someone, it's important for that person to know that no matter how I feel about you as a person, we're here to get a task done. Since we're getting a task done, I don't care if you're blue; we're going to get this task done. So, it's very important to stress both.
Kenya Hansford: The Barkley Forum Institute is for that purpose. Part of why we give so many scholarships to inner-city youth is so that we can funnel them into debate. I don't think we can take a child from the inner city and take them right to Michigan. I think some children are exceptional and can do that; they can get right into the academic side of the debate and not even think about the social side. But there will be some children that will be afraid of going to somewhere like Michigan, with a whole room of people that don't look like them, and they won't get anything done, because they're not used to being in that environment. I think that's why the Barkley Forum is so important, for it to be one the first institutes for the summer, so that children can get through the Barkley Forum and get to a Michigan, or go to an Iowa, and be comfortable there, and be able to be productive once they get there.
Beth Breger: As a lot of you probably know, many of the students from New York City have never seen a debate in their entire lives. I wonder if you could talk about experience, the first time you ever saw a debate, if you didn't have Dr. Moss, Ms. Maddox, or Melissa in your school. What is it that made you stick with it, and what can we do in New York?
Krsna Tibbs: You could do a lot of things. What Dr. Moss always did with us was that he always challenged us. That's the reason why I stayed in debate; he always said, what do you want to do? He said it was attainable, as long as you work hard. It was the same thing with Ede [Warner]. I think that's one thing that can be done.
Shanara Reid: I think kids are naturally competitive. I didn't know that I was a competitive person, but I'm very much so, and debate brought that out in me. Some people have a small glimmer of talent, or need to be fulfilled in some manner, and it's in them, and it just takes something to bring it out. I think that once we get them here, when they get around all of us, most of us will be here at that point, they will have someone they can look up to and say, look, they did it. We are from very similar circumstances; none of us are from rich white high schools. We are all straight out of urban Atlanta; southwest Atlanta, which is the ghetto. So we see where they're coming from. During the institute, we're very unique people; we haven't mainstreamed into white debate; we haven't changed, we've just found a way to be successful in the activity. When they get here, they'll just be like, we're listening to the same music. We speak differently, but we're still speaking the same slang. They'll see that we're no different from them; we're just older. They can come up the same way we did, the same hard work that we did, and that's what they'll see. That's what is so good about the fact that Melissa was able to get so many African-Americans at the institute to work this summer, because we will serve as the role models, and we will make friends with the kids. They'll be perfectly happy here; they'll get a lot out of the activity.
Johnny Jester: I think the same way, yeah, what Shanara said.
I don't think kids in general like to be beaten, especially kids from the inner-city. I think that's very self-explanatory about how kids act towards each other. They don't like to be embarrassed, the don't like to lose. That was the thing that kept me in debate, because my first round, I got my butt whooped, and I didn't like that, I didn't like the feeling of losing. I didn't know much, I didn't know much about the activity, and I didn't know much about dealing with people of other races, but I knew one thing: whenever I was growing up, my mother always told me that if you fall off something, if you fall of a bike or get your butt whooped, you get up and go do it again until you don't get your butt whooped. That's what kept me in debate, and I think that's the hook for a lot of kids, I don't want to get beat anymore, so I'm going to get it right.
Shanara Reid: Then once you get it right, you're sucked into it and you're addicted.
Shawn Whalen: I think this may be the flip side of the question. It seems to me, and I'm just guessing, but I'm guessing that you have had colleagues who started with y'all but who are not here now. I was wondering if you could talk about some folks' memories who could be sitting on the stage with you guys but chose to leave. Is there something about debate that we could change to make that a little easier?
Shanara Reid: There are a lot of people who started out with me as a freshman in high school who are not here today, some of them who are very, very good friends, including my high school debate partner. I think that debate can save a lot of people but I don't think that we should put so many constraints on it to say that it can save everybody, because there's nothing that can save everybody; it's just a piece of the puzzle. For what it's worth, you can save somebody, and if you can save one person, that's good enough for me. I don't know what we can change about debate to make it save more people, but it have saved a lot of people. If you look at the stage, there's quite a few people. There is a very good number of people that it has saved, and we're just representative. There are people that went through the program who aren't debaters now, but they are very successful. I don't think it can save everybody, but we can try to save who we can. Just because we can't save everybody is no reason why we shouldn't at least try to save somebody. It saved everybody up here. It will save more people, it's hard, but we just can't save everybody.
Krsna Tibbs: Even if they stay in it just one year, that one year's experience could last them for a lifetime. I don't think you should look at it as how long someone stays in debate; the goal is to open up someone's mind, and then the experience that they learn will always stay with them.
Johnny Jester: People always tell me you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink. If a person wants to be saved bad enough, then they're going to be saved, because of the way the program works. But you'll never find those people if you don't reach out.
Kenya Hansford: To add to that, with the 140 kids that will be coming here, there are plenty of kids that went to school with me, elementary school, middle school, high school, and never set foot outside Atlanta, Georgia. Had it not been for debate, I would be the same way. I think in those experiences outside of where you are, outside of your environment, realizing that there are no limitations on what you can do, that alone is enough. Just getting the chance to go somewhere other than where you live, and getting to see other people and say, oh, I can live there, and the next place I want to go is California to debate, Florida to debate. You get to all these places and you get ambitious, and you're like, when I get older, I want to travel too. So that means I need to get, you know ... a career ...
Debate pushes you, it gives you that umph.
Chris Wheatley: I wanted to ask, especially initially earlier in your debate careers when you weren't at home on the weekend, and weren't hanging with the friends that you grew up with in elementary school and middle school, and you start going to debate tournaments, and you came back, and your friends asked, hey, what were you doing? And you said I went to a debate tournament. What was the response to that by your friends?
Eric Mathes: I was kind of happy to leave home, actually. I was happy to leave my friends out there, they could drink and smoke all they wanted to. I kind of enjoyed leaving. But when I came back, they said, what did you do? I said I went to a debate tournament. And then they were like, uh, a debate tournament? What did you argue back and forth about? I said it was more than that; you get to meet different people, you get to have a lot of fun. You're still having fun. It was different responses from different people. My good friends said this sounds kind of interesting, but people who wanted to put me down, who were probably jealous because of where I am now, [they said] oh man, you're nothing but an old nerd ... you should have been living with us ... I said it's not about all that; it's about going out and meeting different people and having a lot of fun.
Shanara Reid: I had some totally different responses. There were some people who were just really impressed. Dr. Moss would let us take our trophies home after the tournament, and you'd come back on Monday, you'd be walking through the cafeteria with this big, huge trophy, and people would be like, where'd you get that from? What happened? What's that all about? They wanted to ask questions about it, and a lot of people were impressed; it gives you a status symbol as being very intelligent; people respect that. Even if they think you're a nerd, they'll respect that you're a nerd, and they'll respect that you're smart, that you're doing something with your life, and sometimes that brings other people into the activity who want to be the same thing. But there are other people who say, psssht, you're a nerd, I want to be out on the weekend partying, and all of that, and I was like, well, I can wait until college to do all of that ...
I never worried about it. I had serious problems in high school with people, because of debate in a way, because I got to be very arrogant and very conceited. I knew I was good, I knew I was smart, and I didn't care if anybody didn't think I was smart or good, because I knew I was smart, and you deal with that, or whatever. But debate does so much more for you, that it worth risking it.
Mike Edmond: In your opening comments, you mentioned, or you sounded like you had spiritual experiences, and perhaps you did. I'm wondering, when you said that debate saved you, I'm wondering in the debate itself, was it the resolution, do you think? Was it the research, the topic?
Shanara Reid: It was the activity itself, just participating. When you are in our situation, you are taught that you have to be twice as good as the white man to go anywhere. That's something you hear from like elementary on up. What happens is that you start to compete, and you start to win, and that gives you the self confidence in yourself that you might not have otherwise had. You might not have participated in anything else. Once you have self confidence, once you start believing in yourself, there are no limits to what you can accomplish. That's all of what debate did for me. It's all about self confidence and the self-esteem, and myself, that's why I'm here. It's not because of winning the debate in a vacuum. It's because of what that brought to me, and I think that's what it brings to most of us. It brings us self-confidence. Even if I don't want to debate anymore, I'm self-confident in myself, and I believe that I can achieve. The fact that I was winning tournaments as an African-American female on the Georgia circuit says a lot about me, and I'm not afraid to let you know that I won, because I'm very proud of what I accomplished.
Eric Mathes: When I said it saved me, I think it was just the sheer opportunity, just the sheer fact that debate was there. It gave me something to do after the school bell rang. If all of us would have just gone home and sat aimlessly with nothing to do, a lot of the influences would have gotten to me. Instead, I was staying after school, making sure that I understood "self-actualization" [a popular debate argument]...
So it saved me. My parents made sure I knew that black people and white people can get along. I already knew all that, I just wanted to be a knucklehead. Debate just simply saved me from probably myself.
Sean Banks: I believe that debate helped me from having an idle mind, you know, you have an idle mind, you have nothing to do, you just squander it off, and you get into things you're not supposed to be into, like drugs and alcohol, and all of those things. I believe that, speaking for myself and my partner, we really didn't have a choice as far as ...
school, because our coach was constantly saying you need to be in here working; winning is what this is all about. That competitive mind is what kept us in it. I believe that if it was not for our debate coach, Dr. Moss, and other people like Ms. Wade and Ms. Maddox, we would actually be out on the street; we would be doing what other kids are doing. We would have three or four kids and things like that. But it's because debate takes up your time. It takes up a lot of time, where you could be sitting selling weed or something like that; you're sitting there trying to write out blocks or trying to figure out normativity [a popular but complex debate argument]
Still haven't figured it out. Debate takes up so much time. That's one of the beauties of debate, is that it takes up time, you just don't have time to just sit.
Chris Wheatley: So you would say that it would substantially reduce juvenile crime in the United States?
Johnny Jester: I was going to say that when you were asking whether or not it was the resolution that changes your life, because we debated juvenile crime, and I remember talking to Sean at the beginning of the year when we found out what the topic was, and I said who knows this more thanus?
And it does a lot. The literature that you read, you get to read things about racism, and you get to hear different people talk about racism, and hear what they have to say, and how they feel about it, and you get to compare it to the way you feel about it. The literature and the research itself does a lot for you.
Melissa Wade: Tell them the story about debating Pace's Urban Debate League case when you were negative. When you and Sean had do debate Pace's Urban Debate League case, and you had to be negative, do you remember that round?
Sean Banks: Yeah. The one where they used our school as an example of debate and how successful it was. It was hard for us to say that this wouldn't solve because this school sucks or something ...
We couldn't say that, because you're in a catch-22; how do you say your own school is bad? But then we were trying to figure out how to you know, slide by, you know, make it look good.
Johnny Jester: When they stood up and said "Wade, 1995," I went, now how do we indict that author?
I mean, he was talking about my coach, and I couldn't say our coach was wrong, our coach was bad.
Chris Wheatley [coach of Pace]: They beat us on growth.
Sean Banks: No, it was smoking. We said that between debate rounds, kids go out in the halls and smoke cigarettes, and therefore, because smoking is a crime since most of them are under eighteen, then debate didn't solve. That's how we got out of it.
Alfred Snider: My colleagues have told me, and this is in reference to New York city, that fast-talking, evidence debate is not appropriate, is not going to be successful. What do you think? What should I tell them?
Krsna Tibbs: I don't think that's true at all. When I first started debate at Therrell, we went to tournaments with two handbooks and two index card boxes. It makes me feel good to see Shanara and Sean and Jonathan carrying on the tradition that we started. I think that if you expose people to debate at institutes, they can learn how to debate; they can learn how to debate fast. I don't think you should say, well, you can't learn how to debate with evidence. You have to research.
Johnny Jester: You [asking question to Alfred Snider] said that your colleagues said that fast-talking evidence debate wouldn't last?
Alfred Snider: Right, that it wouldn't work in an inner-city school.
Johnny Jester: Dr. Moss always tells Sean and I, and this is a rule of thumb now, that arguments win debates, and evidence is there to help. I don't think that's just true. I think that evidence, fast-talking debate will work in inner-city schools, because it worked in Therrell, and it's working in my old middle school, Parks Middle School. And it's working in all of these other middle schools. You would think that middle school kids would come to high school debate rounds and say, I can't do that because they're talking too fast, and get scared and run away. But a lot of the kids come up and go: How do I learn how to do that? How do I learn to get that fast? Can you help me get that evidence? Can you teach me how to get that fast? How long did it take for you to get that fast, and how long do I have to stay in the activity until I'm that good? And I always tell them: years and years.
Shanara Reid: What did you [Tuna Snider] mean by your question, with speed and New York debate, like it's not fast there, or that they can learn how to get fast?
Alfred Snider: Slow-talking value debate without much evidence.
Edward Lee: One of the attractions of the activity for me, and I think for a lot of people, is that there are no rules in the activity. You decide in the debate round exactly what you want the rules to be; you decide exactly what you want to talk about. I was not a fast debater. My partner was not a fast debater. At nationals, we had a couple of people nickname us Pokey and Molasses.
For the past three years, I've debated in the elimination rounds at CEDA nationals, and my partner has for the past two years. I think you get from the tournament what you want to debate; there are ways to counteract the speed. Let the participants determine what they want the activity to become. Let the activity evolve. It's intellectual anarchy, and that's what people want.
Sean Banks: You wouldn't send a soldier into the jungle to fight with a .45, or something like that. The speed is a tool that you use to win rounds, that how I look at it. If it's necessary to use speed to win a round, use it, but for those cards that are more important, you slow down and speak clearly so that they can understand. If it's a better strategy to go slower, then you use that strategy. It's like Edward said, you set your own standards, you create your own standards for the whole round. Whichever weapon is best to win the round, that's the one you use. My partner and I, we tend to have a thing where one of us is being more aggressive, going real fast, and the other one is more logical, and using theory at a slower pace. Whatever weapon is best. In New York, if it's better for them to use a faster speed, then do it. It would be real bad for kids in New York to be debating, going real slow, and then you have someone come in from another state come in and say, well, I want speed, I want somebody to go fast. It's all about strategy.
Melissa Wade: Are you going to defend value debate, Eric?
Eric Mathes: Yes I am.
Johnny Jester: I think Sean will help me testify to the fact that we've been whooped the hardest by people who go slow. I just wanted to say that I don't think the speed and the evidence matters all the much; an argument is an argument.
Krsna Tibbs: We won all our debates my first few years at Therrell with little to no evidence. My first year there, I think I cut like one card.
I believe it's definitely possible to have debates without evidence, but we make people cut cards regardless.
Shanara Reid: Eric, you wanted to defend value debate?
Edward Lee: Policy debate doesn't exclude values. They are interconnected.
You can't have a policy without analyzing the assumptions behind the policy. They are one and the same. Policy debate just allows you a forum to analyze the policy discussion and the values. You need them both; you have to have them both in any discussion.
Ede Warner: I have two questions. The first one is for everybody, and I'd like everybody to think for just a second while I ask the second one. A second ago, I kind of challenged you, a bit of a trick question, to ask you what you were willing to do. Carol and Shanara talked about sexism and racism that still exists in the activity, that it's a disincentive for people to stay in the activity. I'd like you to think about what this group out here [gestures to audience], who is committed to sticking around in the activity, can do to make it a better place for the next generation. The second question is specific for Kenya and Shanara, and it relates back to when you were in my lab a few years ago. One of the moments that stuck with me since I left this institute three years ago was when we would have lab meetings, and at points in a three and four hour lab meeting, when people would start talking and it would break down, you two never stopped cutting cards or focusing on what you were doing. And I want to know why, when all the white kids, and me, were talking, you stayed focused like I'd never seen before? And I want to know why.
Shanara Reid: That's a really interesting thing. I'm not sure why we were like that. I think that debate was something that we were very serious about, and I remember some of the discussions they were having, and I just didn't damn well want to participate in them, because they were a little bit controversial, and I knew how upset I can get, and I didn't want to deal with all of that, so I continued to cut cards. But not only that, I was committed. I was very committed. I wanted to do very well.
Ede Warner: Why did you want to do so well?
Shanara Reid: Because debate became it for me. That was all I thought I was good at. Before, when I was in middle school, I didn't think I was good at anything else. Debate became my activity; you weren't going to come and run my activity. This was mine. It belongs to me. It was so very important for me to cut as many cards as I could, so that I would be prepared for the next year. It's all about the commitment. I could sit anywhere and cut cards; I didn't care what was going on, because I had focus, I had goals; I wanted to win.
Kenya Hansford: One thing that kept us focsed was you [Ede Warner]. Before you came along, I had never seen a black college coach before, and I was like, this guy must be really, really good. I felt inspired to do better, and to do well. Secondly, I like business, and I like to see what investments turn out. And when people invest money in me, I feel like I have an obligation to do what I'm supposed to do. Now maybe some of those kids sitting in that room didn't have scholarships, but I know my momma didn't pay one red cent for me to be sent there [to the Barkley Forum Institute]. To me, I felt I was obligated to listen to the Barkley Forum, to everybody here, to do well, or to do my best, to stay on task, and that's the same philosophy I use here at Emory; I'm on scholarship again, and I'm the same way. Other people can drink on the weekends, or whatever, but Emory has invested money in me, and it will not be a bad investment.
Edward Lee: To answer your initial question, I think that the thing that we can all do is not just to be the kritik, but be the solvency for the kritik; don't just come to a conference and say, "We need to do something about the sexism and the racism that exists in our institutions," or "We need to add more minorities in our institutions." Reach back. Do something. Aggressively recruit more women, aggressively recruit more minorities to your program. Go and donate more time, more attention to those people. It doesn't necessarily take money; it takes the opportunity, and it takes attention. That's what got me into the activity; Ms. Maddox didn't come and throw money at me. She said, "Edward, I think this would be a good activity for you, and I would like for you to do this." And Tuna spoke earlier about not just reaching out one time, because I didn't receive her hand that first time; I was like, "No, I don't think so." But she kept reaching out for me. And I'm here to say that if you continue to reach out, they will reach out their hand and welcome you. And that what it takes.
Shanara Reid: Especially at tournaments. It's difficult for us there; we feel very much alone. If Edward wasn't there, if Krsna wasn't there; if Kenya especially wasn't there, I felt like I was the only one, and that's very hard for someone who grew up being used to being around people who look just like me. And if you're there, and you see us, let us know that you care. The more that we know that people care how hard we are working, the more that we want to work. The reason I debate at Emory is not because I love debate, but because Melissa was here to say, "It's OK if you don't want to do this; I understand." But I think that you have an obligation, I think that you can be a role model. Every tournament that I go to with her, if there's something that happens that I'm upset about, she's very much about sitting down for hours to discuss it and make me feel better and to affirm what it is what I'm trying to do. If you have African-American debaters, don't just recruit them into your program and leave them dangling, because they'll need that support, because there are so few of us in the activity. And even if you're not the coach, we're very receptive about someone coming up to us at tournaments and saying, "How are you doing at this tournament, have you had any problems?"
Krsna Tibbs: I know that helped me, was that when I was debating in high school, we didn't have assistant coaches or anything. And now, with what I've learned in college, I can take that to help them, or I can take that to the college level. If Melissa comes to me and asks me to work at this institute, I will do so for as long as she wants, because I think that what she is doing at this institute is very unique and important.
Johnny Jester: I think a very important thing to do, as far as far as getting rid of racism, and sexism, and the other bad things that are in the activity now, is to make sure that when we notice it, that we point it out, and it stays exposed so that something is done about it. Nothing is ever going to be solved by sitting around and going, "Debate is racist and it's sexist, alright, let's go." We know it's there, but I think we're ignoring it. We should point it out and not be afraid to say, "This is wrong. You shouldn't be doing this." Like you said, a lot of people have been raised to think that is right, a lot of people have been raised to think that men are to dominate women, or that white people are to dominate black people, or that white people are the enemy and you can't trust them. It's very important that when we see someone acting on these teachings, to point it out to them and say, "Look, that's not exactly true, and let me show you why it's not true."
Carol Winkler: I think that regardless of whether you're female, black, or white male, we share of lot of these things. Thinking about the reaction I'm getting from the panel, in terms of some of these things that were described, I think the coaches' responsibility is to focus on how to combat those trivialization strategies, and to provide coping skills for the students to use; to work as teachers with regard to those kinds of things, and those are things that can be used all throughout society, not just in debate.
Sean Banks: I believe that the key is to interact with other students and to make sure that your students attempt to make an effort to interact with other students at debate tournaments, because a lot of times, as Shanara has said, it can be scary, it can be intimidating; we just all huddle together at a table. Fortunately now that my partner and I have gotten used to debating, that doesn't happen anymore. Another good thing is that yourselves can come and interact with other teams. I know that Chris [Wheatley] comes up to Johnny and me all the time, talking with us, interacting with us about how did our rounds go, what did you learn, what didn't you learn, can I help you with anything, our team is going to beat you next round ...
And it all helps; it's all in fun and games, but it makes you feel better. It makes you know that people care, you know, that we can do this, we can work together. And as long as you put forth the effort, you know, that you sincerely care in your heart, and try to reach out to kids, I believe that is definitely the key.
Johnny Jester: I think everybody just wants to be loved. And the love that you can feel is similar to the love that you feel at home. I know Sean and I ... I don't think I've told you this yet ... but Sean and I have had conversations millions of times where we sit together and say, "Great, we're going back to Emory. We get to hug Ms. Wade." It's a love that you feel and you can't describe it by words, because when you see her, and she's just smiling, and it doesn't matter what's going on, she's still smiling, and you walk up to her and you hug her, and it's like you can stay there and tell her everything, just lay everything out on the table, and tell her, "It's going this way," or "It's just not going right." She's always there. Even if she doesn't have the answer, she's always there to go, "It's going to be alright."
Sean Banks: It's like she doesn't walk, she just floats ...
Sean Banks: You see her, and you just kind of want to kneel ...
Shanara Reid: She has that power over you, she is just loving you, and I will work at this institute until the day I die because I love Melissa Wade so very much.
Eric Mathes: You could walk up to her and strangle her, and she would still say, "I love you, man."
Shanara Reid: Kenya and I, we were not coming back this summer. We were determined, we were not working here; we were going to make more money. And I thought about it; and I was like, I just can't say that to Melissa Wade; I just can't.
Krsna Tibbs: You can have a midterm on Thursday night, and two days before your test, on Tuesday, you can spend all day here.
Johnny Jester: What's beautiful is that everybody who's involved in the activity is capable of giving that kind of love. It's just that the people who are involved don't give that kind of love, because they're afraid, and I don't know what they're afraid of; I just don't understand it. But it's important that you give that kind of love, the kind of love that says, "Even if you lose all of your rounds today, we're still going to love you."
Shanara Reid: Unconditional. She loves us for who we are; not because we're tokens, or because we're poster children for the program. She has committed herself to being involved in our lives, and even if we don't debate, whatever we're doing in our lives, she'll be proud of us, she'll keep in touch with us, and we know that. We respond to that type of love, and she loves all of us; she loves all of us, everyone of us up on this stage, as if we were her children, and to me, she's like my mother away from home. This is my momma at Emory, this is the person I go to when I have any problems; this is where I go to first, even before I call home to my parents. I've never seen anything like last summer, when Johnny and them had to go meet with her last summer, and at the end of the meeting, he was just like, "We love you!" And I just told them, that's what it's all about; that's the type of love that everybody in this room is capable of, and if you exhibit it; this is the result. We are the result.
Sean Banks: If you show that kind of love, that kind of compassion to new students, that's wonderful. And I can say that I speak for all of us, we really, really appreciate that, because that is what is needed to make this thing work; everyone has to work together. Dr. Moss always comes in with the, "You've got to work hard," but he also always says, "What have you learned? How have you learned from your mistakes? How do you know not to do that again?" He takes that time ... it's all about, what have you learned.
Shanara Reid: We love Dr. Moss as much as Melissa, because he made the same commitment to all of our lives. I've been graduated for two years, and I still talk to Dr. Moss. He is still very significant in my life.
Johnny Jester: It becomes more like father and mother. You're with your father and mother five days a week, and then on the weekends, you're with them. And it would be extremely impossible for me to feel like they were total strangers and then go with them all over the place on the weekend.
Kenya Hansford: I want to get back to race relations, and how, as coaches, you can deal with students, and keep students in the activity. One key thing with us, and I will always remember this, whenever I have a conflict with anyone other than a person of color, on this campus, or anywhere, in the world, when we would come back from rounds, we were like, "Oh, that was really racist what they did to us," and "They weren't supposed to do that," and "That was against the rules," and "They're treating us like this because we're black." And Ms. Maddox was always like, "So, what did you do?" She would always bring it back to what you could have done to make the situation better. She was not saying, "OK, that was not racist." She was teaching us that you can cope with any type of situation; I don't care if nobody on the circuit changes. If no one else comes to the realization that they should not be racist or sexist, you can still succeed in this activity. If there are no more Melissa Wades; if no one else ever comes along to do this, that does not mean that you can't excel in this activity, and it does not mean that you can't deal in the world and get what you want. And she always taught us that; she always taught us that it's us. Those 140 kids coming from New York, it's up to each one of them to make this a success for them when they're here. We'll give them our all when they're here, and you'll give them your all when they're here, and you'll give your own debaters your all; but it's up to each individual person to decide that this will not stop me. And that's true for every minority person that has ever succeeded in this world. Very seldom were there white people standing there with open arms saying, "Come do this, we really welcome you to do this." To have that kind of opportunity set in front of you, that's very unique. For us to come past obstacles that were a lot bigger than that, I very much doubt that we won't have some kids that will be successful in this activity, because we've got open arms. And for those who don't have open arms, well, they're going to realize that when Shanara wins the NDT, black girls can debate. They'll figure that out. But a racist judge will not stop Shanara Reid from doing that.
Krsna Tibbs: For us, Dr. Moss always said, "No excuses." We'd say, "We're debating Westminster 'A', we're not going to win." He'd say, "I don't want to hear that."
He challenged us, made us work hard. And that was one of the reasons why I went on to debate in college.
Johnny Jester: I know another thing Dr. Moss always says is, "Never blame a bad round on the judge." It's never the judge's fault. Dr. Moss says that it's your job to go in, and make sure that you adjust to the judge, and I think that's a very important thing for debaters, as well as coaches, and whoever is involved in the activity, to make sure that they're flexible enough to adjust to the person and try to see things from the way they're seeing things. Just like Dr. Moss always tells us, try to see the round the way the judge is seeing it, and that way, you can have a better chance of winning, because you know what needs to change. That's another key thing; try to see things from the perspective of the debater (if you're a coach), and try to see things from the perspective of the coach (if you're a debater). You can make a difference that way, because you can understand where they're coming from.
Melissa Wade: It's way over our time, and Jimmy [camera operator] has to be fed ...
[applause, end of Ideafest]