On Wednesday, February 14th, 8th grader Douglas Johnson of Thurgood Marshall, boarded a North Philly bus with a one-way destination: ASAP Debate middle school tournament at Mastery Charter Hardy Williams. Although his school did not currently offer debate, he heard ASAP's new middle school debate topic was comprehensive immigration reform and knew that he wanted his voice to be heard-- a one-hour bus would not stop him. The timely middle school tournament addressed whether immigration reform should include a pathway to citizenship.
There, Johnson joined more than 100 students from schools across the city who have spent the last month crafting arguments for whether or not immigration reform should include a pathway to citizenship. The topic was selected by the students in December, prior to the political maelstrom that erupted over the new federal administration’s recent immigration policies. The topic also comes at a time when many schools in Philadelphia have welcomed a growing population of immigrant students, providing additional relevance and context to students’ examination of the issue of comprehensive immigration reform.
Young Douglas felt strongly towards lending his voice to the nation-wide conversation, so much so that he competed as an individual--also known as a maverick--placing 2nd overall in the tournament, having no training or coaching assistance.
While the ideological divide in Washington D.C. often seems difficult to bridge, the middle school debaters had to prepare both pro and con arguments on the topic at hand. Through this experience, students are learning to appreciate multiple perspectives and understand the importance of citing facts and research to support their claims. ASAP Debate Manager, Sara Morningstar told reporter Justin Udo of KYW Newsradio:
“They’re learning that there are multiple sides to each issue, that it’s not just black and white, there are grey areas. You could possibly change your mind. Everything isn’t just one-sided. I think that’s an incredibly important skill that our students are developing."
ASAP Debate recognized the extensive efforts of paritipcating students by awarding 1st place to Tafiq Williams & Joseph Oronto-Pratt of Mastery Hardy Williams; 2nd place to Douglas Johnson of Thurgood Marshall and 3rd place to Riley Keenan & Noel McClellan of Masterman. The evening’s top speakers included Joseph Oronto-Pratt (Mastery Hardy Williams), Akayla Brown (Laboratory Charter School), Riley Keenan (Masterman), Tafiq Williams (Mastery Hardy Williams) and Douglas Johnson (Thurgood Marshall).
Young ASAP Debaters, continue to willingly challenge themselves with topics that are often divisive and arduous among even the most experienced professionals. However, these middle school voices find strength in devoted research and passion of individuals like, Douglas Johnson; someone who isn’t afraid to do it alone, and in this case, do it well.
ASAP would like to thank Mastery Charter Hardy Williams for providing the space for ASAP's tournament and congratulates all its middle school debaters for a job well done.
For information on upcoming topics, click here.
This article was written by ASAP/ After School Activities Partnerships Communication & Development Coordinator, Victoria Bakey.