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Black Atlanta Youth Make History at Harvard International Debate Competition for Second Year in a Row

Black Atlanta Youth Make History at Harvard International Debate Competition for Second Year in a Row

On Thursday students known as the Atlanta Great Debaters, from the city's Harvard Diversity Project, made history as back to back champions during Harvard’s annual international debate tournament. 

The team sent a total of 21 minority students to Harvard for the school’s annual Harvard Debate Council Summer Workshops. The two week residency program began on June 30th with classes for 12-hour workdays and ended with a program-wide tournament. According to a statement on its website, it is “one of the nation’s top programs in competitive debate and public speaking.”

Despite having zero prior debate experience, the Atlanta Great Debaters dominated over a hundred gifted scholars from 15 different countries around the world.

Organized in pairs, members of the program stood out in the competition as five out of eight quarterfinalists were a part of the Atlanta Great Debaters team. 

In the end, rising high school seniors, Don “DJ” Roman Jr. and Keith Harris, made history when they went undefeated to win against students from Massachusetts in the championship round. 

“Never before in the history of the Harvard debate residency has any team gone undefeated, however our Keith and DJ achieved an unprecedented undefeated record, ”  Brandon Fleming, CEO of the Harvard Diversity Project, told Because of Them We Can. 

Fleming’s students understand their wins are bigger than them. One of his students told him, “This win is about our ancestors, our city and our entire culture.”

Established in 2017, the Harvard Debate Diversity Council Project is "an Atlanta-based pipeline program that recruits, trains, and feeds minority youth into the Harvard Debate Council's summer residential program at Harvard College.”

According to Fleming, who is also the assistant debate coach at Harvard University, they specifically target and recruit students with no debate experience and train them for 10 months to compete against experienced debaters from all over the world.

“It’s centered on educational equity and it’s showing the world what young Black people can do if they’re only given access and opportunity,” said Fleming.

The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the students. Last year’s inaugural class consisted of five seniors. All five seniors were accepted into college on full scholarship. They include Harvard, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Louisiana State University, the University of Texas at Arlington and Southern Methodist University.

With their sights set on empowering more minority students, Fleming and his team is looking ahead.

“We’ve already accepted our third cohort of students and they begin training next month.”

To learn more about the Harvard Debate Diversity Council Project please visit their website at