Cobb students in Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project

Cobb student participants in the Harvard Debate Council Diversity ProjectL-R Commissioner Lisa Cupid, Allison McInnis, Audrey McNeal, Adetomi Oderinde, Sherrod Crum, counselor Jennifer Susko (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

At their Tuesday evening meeting, the Cobb Board of Commissioners recognized Cobb County students who competed in the inaugural class of the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project. The project was founded in 2017 and is a subsidiary of the Harvard Debate Council at Harvard College.  Brandon Fleming, Assistant Coach of Debate at Harvard University, started the program to increase minority representation in the council’s summer residency.

The certificates of recognition presented by District 4 Commissioner Lisa Cupid stated,

Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project (HDCDP) is an Atlanta-based program that provides Black youth access and exposure to accelerated academic training in critical thinking, communication, and civic engagement.

HDCDP seeks to matriculate underrepresented students into the Harvard Debate Council’s summer residency at Harvard University. Founded in 2017, HDCDP is a subsidiary of the Harvard Debate Council at Harvard College. Brandon Fleming, Assistant Coach of Debate at Harvard University, founded the diversity pipeline program to fulfill the Harvard Debate Council’s desire to increase minority representation at the summer residency.

Fleming organized an executive board comprised of Atlanta’s influential community leaders and launched the initiative in Fall 2017. In the inaugural year, over 150 applications poured in from counties throughout Metro Atlanta. In January 2017, 25 students were selected to represent Atlanta’s inaugural class of HDCDP, who went on to make history by dominating the tournament at the Harvard Debate Council summer residency.

Twenty-five of Atlanta’s “Great Debaters” made history at a recent annual Harvard Debate Council at Harvard University. Ten of the 12 Atlanta teams advanced to the octo-finals, six went on to the quarterfinals while two teams competed in the semifinals.

The four students who came to accept the certificates spoke with the Courier after the presentation.

Audrey McNeal of Harrison High School said, “I ranked as a quarter-finalist in the debate tournament at Harvard College, competing with kids from all over the world. I trained here in Cobb County under the leadership of Mr. Brandon Fleming, the assistant debate coach of Harvard, and I got so much from this program. It’s taught me a lot of debate skills.”

Sherrod Crum, a senior at South Cobb High School, said, “I was part of the inaugural class of 2018 for the Harvard Debate Conference Diversity Project. It was a life-changing experience, and under the guidance of Mr. Brandon Fleming my group and I were able to achieve greatness at Harvard College over the summer, and it was an amazing experience I’ll never forget.  I just want to thank everybody involved for making it happen.”

Adetomi Oderinde of Wheeler High School said, “Being a member really inspired me to speak up more and be more open to new ideas, and new mindsets.  And it also helped me have more confidence in myself and my own abilities.  Going to Harvard was a really inspiring experience of being able to be surrounded by all these intelligent scholars and teachers who wanted to enrich our young minds. Mr. Fleming really helped us grow and develop as students.”

Allison McInnis, a junior at Harrison High School, said, “I’m one of the inaugural members of the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project. And through this program, I was able to learn a lot of new debate skills and new public speaking skills that I did not have prior to this program.  And even though I came in with very little debate experience, I was able to compete at the Harvard Debate Council summer workshop where I was able to advance to compete against the top teams of all 400 participants.”

Video of Commissioner Cupid presenting the certificates

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Larry Felton Johnson
Larry Felton Johnson is the editor and publisher of the Cobb County Courier. He holds a degree in journalism from Georgia State University and enjoys exploring the county's trail and greenway network when he isn't covering county government meetings and court proceedings.

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