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July 30, 2018

Nelson Mullins, Of Counsel Marquetta Bryan Support Inaugural Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project

Atlanta Student Brought Home Global Championship

In the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project’s (HDCDP) inaugural year, class member Jordan Thomas of Atlanta’s Grady High School brought home the first-place victory. He was part of the team that Nelson Mullins helped send to the global competition at Harvard University.

HDCDP provides training and an opportunity for metropolitan Atlanta high school students to debate issues in a global competition at Harvard University. Marquetta Bryan, of counsel in Nelson Mullins’ Atlanta office, serves on the executive board of directors of HDCDP, a subsidiary of the Harvard Debate Council, which annually brings approximately 400 global students to the Massachusetts campus for a two-week residency. Students undergo a daily 10-hour academic regimen, learning from highly accomplished debate professors and instructors who engage them through rigorous curricula centered on research, analysis, argumentation, and political science. The program concludes with a single-elimination tournament that allows students to apply the acquired knowledge and skills in competition. The Atlanta students competed against youth from across the world, including Asia, Europe, and Russia.

Harvard Assistant Debate Coach Brandon Fleming founded the HDCDP after recognizing the lack of African-American presence at the Harvard summer program in previous years and the power the art of debate can have, according to a press release from the organization. He established HDCDP as an Atlanta-based pipeline that would recruit, train, and send students of color to Harvard on full scholarship. Fleming, Executive Director, was the students’ only coach and worked without other staff.

“No other activity (outside of academic debate) imbues young people with a skill set that will train them to be effective students, communicators, and citizens. Debate combines competition with advocacy, making it rewarding and worthwhile for even the most reluctant students to learn to research, read, speak, and write successfully,” said Tripp Rebrovick, Ph.D., head coach of Debate at Harvard University.

Bryan joined the board earlier this year and began fundraising to help get the Atlanta youth paid trips to the Cambridge campus. Corporate supporters who quickly signed on include  Chick-fil-A Foundation, The Coca-Cola Company, UPS, Publix Supermarkets, The Art Institute of Atlanta, and MBC Concessions. The board raised more than $100,000 in just six months to fund the tuition, travel, and room and board for all 25 students. Atlanta partner Jeff Allred personally sponsored a student, and contributions were also received from the Boston office and Boston partner Francis Powell.

Bryan also worked with some of the students and their families as a mentor, coaching the students on what to expect traveling and “living” in Boston away from their families, some for the first time, and traveled with the students to Harvard to get them settled in. She also worked with them on leadership development and the meaning of integrity.

“I believe that leadership development is crucial for these students because we are sending them away for two weeks, and they will have freedoms they haven’t had before,” she said.  

The inaugural class facilitated debate trainings throughout the year for Atlanta area students, will now train the new class of HDCDP students, and have been invited to train students in other states as well, Bryan said.

Of the competition, Bryan notes, “We get them engaged in debate in the beginning with subjects they are interested in.” But at the competition, the debate topic was Resolved: The United States should accede to The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas without reservations, “which was not a topic we had discussed.

“At the competition, the team was questioning whether they were good enough for this. And the answer was yes,” Bryan said.

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