Black Female Debaters Make History


On October 7, 2013, two Fresno State University debaters became the first African-American women to take home first and second-place in the 42 year history of the Henry Clay Invitational Debates.

According to Fresno State’s The Collegian, the annual debate, held this year at the University of Kentucky, was first established in 1971 and is the country’s oldest and largest U.S. policy, varsity debate tournament.

Despite it being the first semester in debate for Nadia Lewis, she took first-place in the competition and  is now ranked 29th in the nation. Her teammate who took second-place, Jamila Ahmed, is in her second year in debate and ranked 16th in the nation.

Dr. Shanara Reid-Brinkley, director of debate at the University of Pittsburgh told the paper, ” Nadia Lewis and Jamila Ahmed have accomplished a feat that many debaters around the country can only dream of achieving.” She went on to say, “And, it is important to note that they did so as virtual novices competing in the varsity level division.”

Instead of using standard debate methods, the two young women used a non-traditional approach employing the use of poetry, song, drawn metaphors and criticism of the structure of debate as it exists today. The women also often weave their personal experiences with the struggles faced by African-American women through their debates. Ahmed said, “One of the topics was targeted killing; we talked about how black women are targeted every day in society. It’s not the same as using a drone, but we would use a metaphorical drone and examples in history or the world to further our argument. We discuss the oppressive structures that black women deal within our daily lives and despite these obstacles, we can still affirm ourselves through song and poetry and our resilience as phenomenal black women.”

Awards aside, both Lewis and Ahmed hope to use debate as an opportunity to make a difference within the debate community and inspire young girls. Lewis explained, “The topics we debate, Jamila and I are truly passionate about. I want to create a change that, after we leave, other black women and girls that are younger can join this activity and it can be something that’s educational for them.”


(Photo courtesy of ‘The Collegian at Fresco State’ and Roe Borunda)