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Atlanta Teens Become First Black Female Duo to Win Harvard's Debate Competition: 'We Did It'

People logo People 7/21/2021 Rachel DeSantis
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For the very first time, a pair of Black female debate partners were named the champions of Harvard University's annual summer debate competition.

Emani Stanton, 17, and Jayla Jackson, 16, took home the win after facing off against more than 100 other debaters from around the world — and going undefeated for all 10 rounds, according to the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project.

"The bar has been raised, and that's a good thing for people and for girls of color all around the world," Jackson, a rising junior at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School in Atlanta, told NBC affiliate WXIA. "It is still mind-blowing for us. We went in there, and we did it."

a person wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Emani Stanton and Jayla Jackson © 11Alive/Youtube Emani Stanton and Jayla Jackson

Each summer, Harvard hosts a residency and debate competition for students — and for the past four years, the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project has been recruiting and training Black youth from the Atlanta area to compete.

That program is how Jackson and Stanton, a rising senior at North Atlanta High School, first met, and where they quickly realized that Stanton's analytical brain was a perfect balance to Jackson's more creative thinking, according to WXIA.

"Once we started sharpening our skills, it became a game of chess finding a partner that complements you," Jackson told the outlet.

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This year's competition marks the fourth year in a row that students from the program have won, according to its Instagram.

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"They have shown the world what's possible when the playing field is leveled!" the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project wrote in a celebratory Instagram post.

The girls' topic of debate that earned them their big win was "Resolved: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization should substantially increase its defense commitments in the Baltic States," according to Black Enterprise.

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An Instagram video shared by their program also featured the students debating whether NCAA athletes should be paid.

"Every time we would win a round, the pressure just got more and more," Stanton told WXIA. "Jayla would pray for us and her faith got me through it… For me, it's a catalyst to go harder. It's a catalyst for the next door that I walk into to create a space where we can combine this scholarship and this culture to have more Black girls dominating these academic spaces."

Added Jackson: "Emani is a go-getter. I know I have a lifelong friend in her and we have an experience like this now that gels our bond together."


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