Brooklyn, New York — High school juniors Devonte Escoffery and Stephon Adams have made their school’s debate team their number one priority.
Both attend Metropolitan Corporate Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y.
But their debates on issues such as poverty don’t just consist of traditional exchanges of arguments at warp speed.
The duo also perform original raps.
“In debate, I talk about my social location, Canarsie [Brooklyn] and rap music influences my view of the world, ” Devonte said. ”[Stephon and I] believe that one, rap music shouldn’t shape you in a bad way or a negative way. Our personal narratives should be heard.”
The pair’s unique approach has thrown off many of their opponents, who expect Devonte and Stephon to simply speed-read points off their lap tops or index cards.
“I get this confidence that I didn’t have before I debated,” Stephon said. “My grades are up and college is now a bigger part of the picture.”
A recent study shows African-American high school students who debate are 70 percent more likely to graduate than non-debate participants.
Metro Corp. Academy’s debate coach Alex Jones said the academic progress Devonte and Stephon have made is “remarkable.”
He also said success hasn’t been limited to them.
“We’re dealing with a really educationally underserved population, kids who really struggle with English,” Jones said of the majority of New York’s urban debate league competitors. “But in debate, it’s as heavy as it gets. [The students] learn vocabulary, have to be able to defend it in front of a judge and present clear arguments.”
Devonte and Stephon both call debate an outlet for their self-expression.
“Not all, but [some of] these politicians don’t know what [those living in poverty] go through on a daily basis,” Devonte said. “But if they hear the voices of those going through it, then they’re better able to do something about it.”