The movie “The Great Debaters" told the true story of African American college students who blazed a trail in the debate world. Now, a similar story is playing out at a high school in Detroit.
“It was very intimidating at first to go up against much more affluent schools that have far more resources than we have,” said Sharon Hopkins, a debate teacher at University Preparatory Academy in Detroit.
She had no experience in debate when she started a team at the school with help from the Detroit Urban Debate League six years ago. Now she can make an unimaginable statement.
"University Prep is the most successful African American debate team in policy debate,” said Hopkins.
One of her team members a couple years ago made history when he became the first African American boy in policy debate to be named the number one speaker in his event.
This year, two senior girls on her team are in line to make history again. Their names are Tamara Morrison and Tiera Colvin.
“This year has been a shock,” said Tamara.
“People didn’t expect two African American women to advance this far,” said Tiera. "And at first it was hurtful.”
They used that hurt as motivation. Now they are the first team of women from Detroit who have received a bid to the Tournament of Champions. It's basically the Super Bowl of the high school debate world.
“They definitely are making history,” said Hopkins.
The girls give credit to the Detroit Urban Debate League for helping them make history.
The Detroit Urban Debate League started in 2009. At the time it says there were only a couple schools in the city with debate teams and now there are about 20.
It hosts city-wide tournaments, helps with after-school programs, helps teachers learn how to coach debate, and hosts a summer program to train kids and teachers in debate.
The founders of the league say debate teaches critical learning and hones skills for academic achievement. It is made possible through a generous grant from Allstate Insurance and partnerships with Wayne State University, the University of Michigan, and others.
Tamara and Tiera are hoping to use what their teacher and the league has given them to really make history, and not just receive a bid, but win in their specialty at the Tournament of Champions.
Their school is raising money for the debate team’s travel to such competitions. If you would like to donate, visit uprepschools.com/get-involved.