Words, not violence.
That’s the creed of the Miami-Dade Urban Debate League, which teaches young people the art of the argument – the art of discussing issues without resorting to violence.
It’s been three years since MDUDL began its work in Miami-Dade County, and some of its best representatives were in the Fried On Business studio recently to give us an update.
Cliff Schulman, a Partner at Weiss Serota, Miami, FL, is an Advisor for MDUDL, which is the local chapter of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL).
There are 22 Urban Debate Leagues hosting some 10,800 inner-city kids nationwide. Some 80% of those who participate will go on to college, according to stats compiled by the organization, he said.
In addition to teaching the art of the argument, Cliff said, MDUDL teaches kids how to organize their thoughts, to speak publicly and to collaborate with others in the program.
MDUDL is involved in 17 middle schools and high schools in Miami-Dade County and works with the University of Miami, Florida International University and Miami Dade College to host debates.
Cydney Edwards, program director for MDUDL, said the organization has seen strong growth, which has culminated in 2018 being the first year the group has gone to the national championships in Washington, D.C.
Dwayne Martin, a local high school junior and captain of his debate team, has also been the Financial Literacy Debate champion for Miami and represented the city in the recent national championship.
A Miami native, Dwayne said the need to education oneself was a big draw to the organization. For instance, during his first year with MDUDL, the topic at hand was the national surveillance state and whether it should be curtailed.
This required learning a great deal about the operation of the federal government – and listening to the voices for and against these intelligence programs.
Dwayne hopes to double-major in international business and political economy. He’s been to London, South Africa and Namibia as part of the MDUDL program.
In the last 3 years, Cliff said, about 400-500 Miami-Dade children have participated in various aspects of the program. MDUDL just completed a five-day debate camp at the University of Miami where 60 young people participated.
Cliff said the biggest challenge to date has been fundraising. Support comes from, among other sources, law firms, private grants and Community Development Block Grants.
If you want to help, visit mdudl.org for more information.
“These kids are our future. If you don’t make the investment now in the future, then things are going to be a lot worse,” he said.
Cydney said many participants go on to attend university in Florida, but debate is becoming more popular, so some cast their eyes toward larger debate schools like:
– Northwestern University
– Emory University
– Wake Forest
– The University of Texas at Austin
– The University of Michigan
– The University of Miami
– The University of Florida
These institutions actually send out scouts to recruit young people like Dwayne, she said.
Debate, Dwayne said, offers a chance to be heard that might not exist otherwise. And by being heard, change can begin.
The discussion should begin at the micro level instead of the macro level, he said. What’s happening with us as individuals contributes to the larger problems that we observe.
That said, Dwayne added, some individuals face societal pressure and, often, persecution that others do not face – like black transsexual individuals.
There are bright spots, however, he said. Youth are better able to represent themselves these days, and local leaders have shown a willingness to listen to their concerns.
This was a fantastic interview, one that’s well worth your time. Click here to listen to the entire conversation about the Miami-Dade Urban Debate League.