theGrio’s 100: Tommie Lindsey, opening doors for students through public speaking

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Who is Tommie Lindsey?

Tommie Lindsey has been a dedicated teacher for the past 36 years, primarily coaching Forensics, which is essentially competition in speech, debate and dramatic presentation.

For the past 25 years he’s been Director of Forensics at James Logan High School in Union City, California, where he has established himself as one of the nation’s leading public speaking coaches.

Lindsey believes the power of words can change lives. He has said no matter what obstacles children face, learning competitive debating skills raises self-esteem, increases confidence and gives students a head start.

For his tireless commitment, Lindsey was a recipient of a 2004 MacArthur Fellowship. Along with 22 others, he was handpicked for work that shows “exceptional merit and promise.” The fellowships come with a no-strings-attached $500,000 grant.

Lindsey, 61, graduated from the University of San Francisco (USF) in 1973 with a degree in Communication Arts and Social Science. He was the first African-American to be valedictorian at USF. He later received an honorary PhD from the university for “Visionary Leadership.”

Why is he on theGrio’s 100?

The James Logan High School Forensics Speech and Debate program was founded by Lindsey in 1984. The program has put the school on the national map for forensics competition excellence.

Lindsey’s work at James Logan has established and maintained one of the leading speech and debate programs in the country. The school, which is predominately working class, is ranked one of the top ten teams in the National Forensic League and has been recognized by the likes of Oprah, Jim Leher, and CBS 5 News.

Ninety percent of Lindsey’s students go on to four-year colleges, compared to the overall average of 40 percent at the school.

Lindsey’s students, the majority of whom are African-American, Hispanic and Filipino, have won numerous state titles, league-level tournaments and national championships. They routinely beat students at the country’s best schools.

Lindsey’s work has also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Accidental Hero: Room 408. In addition, the team hosts a tournament during the M.L.K. Jr. Holiday.

What next for Lindsey?

Lindsey will be retiring next year and plans to become a consultant throughout the country for underserved youth, helping students find their voice and in turn giving a voice to the voiceless.