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Howard Parliamentary Debate Team Makes Debut Against Yale

L-R (back row): Scot X. Esdaile, President CT NAACP; Melech Thomas, Deandre Jackson; Angela Porter; Javaris Powell, Coach; Jared Smith. In photo left to right (front row): Professor Tianna Y. Sousa-Johnson, J.D., Director of Forensics; Allen Reynolds and Valetta Burgess.

WASHINGTON (March 31, 2009) - On March 28, 2009 the Howard University Parliamentary Debate Team not only made its debut, but they also made history when they participated in “The Great Debate” exhibition with Yale University’s Debate Team to celebrate the NAACP’s 100th anniversary. The NAACP is one of the nation’s oldest, largest, and most widely recognized grassroots civil rights organizations, and its membership consists of supporters both domestic and abroad.

The historic event was held in Woolsey Hall on Yale University’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut in front of a diverse audience of 2,700 people from all over the country, including approximately 40 Howard University students who traveled almost seven hours to the event on a bus chaperoned by Dr. Rochelle Ford, Associate Dean of Research in the John H. Johnson School of Communications. The bus was sponsored and/or coordinated by the Office of the Provost, Student Activities, The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Forensics Society and the John H. Johnson School of Communications, including Andrew B. Jones, President of the John H. Johnson School of Communications Student Council.

The “Great Debate” was sponsored by the Connecticut Branch of the NAACP with the leadership of their President, Scot X. Esdaile. The debate was intense and thought provoking. Mr. Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and also an alum of Howard University, served as the moderator for the event. Dr. Jannette L. Dates, Dean of the John H. Johnson School of Communications delivered greetings on behalf of Howard University to the audience at this sold out event and Professor Tianna Y. Sousa-Johnson, J.D. delivered closing remarks and urged the audience to support their local debate programs.

Both universities passionately debated whether access to high quality education, including college, should be a constitutionally guaranteed right, and if financial institutions that engaged in predatory lending practices that discriminated against racial and ethnic minorities should receive bailout money from the Federal Government. No winner or loser was declared by moderator Hilary O. Shelton. Both debate teams were awarded trophies for their outstanding performance in the debate.

Although Howard University’s commitment to debate dates back to the early 1900’s, the debate program was placed on moratorium for a few years due to a lack of funding. Howard University debate teams have participated in various debate formats over the last century, including Lincoln-Douglas and Policy debate styles. However, this is the first time in the university’s history that debaters have used a parliamentary debate format. Parliamentary debate is recognized internationally, and is based in part on the deliberative discussions in the British House of Commons, also known as Parliament. Parliamentary debate focuses primarily on a student’s oratorical, persuasive and analytical abilities.

The Howard University Parliamentary Debate Team is part of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Forensics Society, where Professor Tianna Y. Sousa-Johnson, J.D., an alumna of Howard University, serves as Director. The debate team is coached primarily by Mr. Javaris Powell. The forensics program is housed in the John H. Johnson School of Communications, where Dr. Jannette L. Dates serves as Dean, and is located in the Department of Communication and Culture. The Society was founded in 1973 by the department’s current chair, Dr. Laura A. Fleet.

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Forensics Society prepares students to become leaders in the global community through speech, debate, and mock trial intercollegiate competitions. Howard University is one of the few Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU’s) that competes in forensic intercollegiate competitions.

For general inquiries or information on how your contribution can provide much needed assistance to the teams, please contact Professor Sousa-Johnson via e-mail at or by phone at 202-806-6711. All contributions are tax deductible.




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