Nadia Lewis and Jamila Ahmed are two students at Fresno State University in California who have made history by being the first Black women to win the top spots at the Henry Clay Invitational Debates held at the University of Kentucky. Launched in 1971, these debates are one of the oldest and largest U.S. policy varsity debate tournaments in America and there have been no Black women winners since they began.
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Lewis and Ahmed competed against 284 speakers from 30 other schools. What’s more impressive is that Lewis (ranked 29th in the nation) took home this first place win and it’s only her first semester in debate! Ahmed (ranked 16th in the nation) is in her second year and took the second place title.
This year’s debate topic was: “The U.S. Federal Government should substantially increase statutory and/or judicial restrictions on the war powers authority of the president of the United States in one or more of the following areas: cyber operations, indefinite detention, targeted killing such as drones, and deploying the armed forces into hostile places.”
According to The Collegian at Fresno State, Lewis and Ahmed took a different approach in their debate, and that non-traditional style they love is often criticized in the debate world. This newer style started about 12 years ago and critics feel the philosophical additions to the debate aren’t as “legitimate” because the the traditional style creates better critical thinking, better advocacy and better policy making skills. But non-traditional debating worked wonders for Lewis and Ahmed!
Ahmed says,”One of the topics was targeted killing; we talk about how Black women are targeted every day in society. It’s not the same as using a drone, but we would use a metaphorical drone and examples in history or the world to further our argument. We discuss the oppressive structures that Black women deal within our daily lives and despite these obstacles, we can still affirm ourselves through song and poetry and our resilience as phenomenal Black women.”
Lewis continues, “We’re using our Black aesthetics and our experiences as Black women in society. We bring that into our [debate] round through our music and poetry. We express how we feel and the struggles that we go through and the oppression through [our speeches]. When people leave [the debate] rounds, they know who we are, they know our struggles, and who we are as black women in this society.”
Dr. Shanara Reid-Brinkley, director of debate at University of Pittsburgh, who also happens to be the most successful African-American female debater in national policy debate history (until now), has said, “I do believe it is also the first time in the history of national debate competition that two African-American women have won the top two speakers at any national tournament. Nadia Lewis and Jamila Ahmed have accomplished a feat that many debaters around the country can only dream of achieving and, it is important to note that they did so as virtual novices competing in the varsity level division. Their competitors are likely to have five to eight more years of debate experience than these young women.”
Lewis and Ahmed said they want to use debate as an opportunity to make a difference in the debate community and inspire young girls. I’m feeling inspired! What about you?
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