"Trailblazers don't wait": How Harvard's debate tournament helps teens find their voice

Debate tournament helps teens find their voice

Atlanta — It sounds like a teenager's dream: winning awards for talking back. Not only are these teens finding their voices but they've made their way to Harvard.

Harvard Assistant Debate Coach Brandon Fleming will train a team for ten months. He's introducing black voices to debate and the world of debate to black voices.

Every year, the Harvard Debate Council hosts a tournament. Around 100 teams compete from 15 countries. Fleming's Atlanta team first showed up in 2017. They became the first all-black team to win Harvard's tournament.

"'Be intrusive in places that are not inclusive,' you know, is what I tell them," Fleming said. "Trailblazers don't wait for opportunities. They create them. And so create your own opportunities. Let your voice be heard."

strassmann4.jpg
CBS News

The next year, they proved it wasn't a fluke by winning again. Just ask DJ Roman, a debate student who went undefeated with his teammate.

"We got to the second debate, the third debate, the fourth debate. We were like we haven't lost yet," Roman said.

Fleming teaches his students to think first, then how to debate. He pushes a room full of smart kids.

Sophomore Ramaya Thomas is one of them. She likes feeling uncomfortable and tackling new challenges.

"They don't want you to sit down and be like, 'oh, he just shut me down. I don't feel like speaking anymore," Thomas explained. "They want you to find your voice and find what you want to say to speak back up and say it."

And there is no debate about that.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.