2 debaters named 1st black women to win national competition

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Two female students at Fresno State University recently made history by being named the first African-American women to win the Henry Clay Invitational Debates.

The annual debate, which was held at the University of Kentucky this year, was first established in 1971 and is one of the nation’s oldest and largest U.S. policy, varsity debate tournaments in America, reports The Collegian at Fresno State.

On Oct. 7, Nadia Lewis and Jamila Ahmed took home the first and second place titles, respectively, after competing against 286 speakers from 30 schools.

The paper reports that it was was Lewis’ first semester participating in the school’s debate team. Now, she is ranked 29th in the nation.

As for Ahmed, it is her second year in debate, and her latest victory catapulted her to rank 16th in the country.

“Nadia Lewis and Jamila Ahmed have accomplished a feat that many debaters around the country can only dream of achieving,” Dr. Shanara Reid-Brinkley, director of debate at University of Pittsburgh, told the paper.

“And, it is important to note that they did so as virtual novices competing in the varsity level division. Their competitors are likely to have five to eight more years of debate experience than these young women,” she added.

The topic of this year’s debate was: “The U.S. Federal Government should substantially increase statutory and/or judicial restrictions on the war powers authority of the president of the United States in one or more of the following areas: cyber operations, indefinite detention, targeted killing such as drones, and deploying the armed forces into hostile places.”

As opposed to executing standard methods in debate, both Lewis and Ahmed took a non-traditional route in validating their argument. Instead, they drew metaphoric responses by referencing their personal backgrounds and the experiences they face as a minority through the use of poetry and song.

“One of the topics was targeted killing; we talk about how black women are targeted every day in society,” Ahmed said. “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.”

“We’re using our black aesthetics and our experiences as black women in society,” Lewis added.

She went on to say: “We express how we feel and the struggles that we go through and the oppression through [our speeches]. When people leave [the debate] rounds, they know who we are, they know our struggles, and who we are as black women in this society.”

To read the full story on The Collegian at Fresno State, click here.

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