Black Girl Magic: North Atlanta HS Senior & Her Partner Become 1st Black Female Duo to Win Harvard International Debate Championship

North Atlanta High School senior Emani Stanton is the embodiment of “Black girl magic.”

This past summer, the 17-year-old Atlanta native and her partner, Jayla Jackson, who attends Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, became the first Black female duo to win the international debate competition at Harvard University, besting out over 100 debaters from around the world.

The win marks the fourth time that teams from the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project (HDCDP) have been crowned Harvard debate champions. The Atlanta-based pipeline program recruits, trains, and matriculates Black youth into the Harvard Debate Council’s annual summer residency at Harvard University.

All We Do is Win, Win, Win

For Emani, a proud and unapologetically confident young woman, the win represents one of the greatest victories of her life thus far. She credits founder and CEO Brandon Fleming and her mentor and HDCDP executive director, Kellye Britton, for their inspiration and encouragement.

“It’s a win for all the people who helped me get there, and it’s a win for the Harvard Diversity Project, which is a team of Black students who helped me get to where I am. I can say that because I was representing a legacy,” Emani said. “We are the four-time champs. And because I was representing a legacy, it felt like the reach of our program has been extended further than just the reach of my own arms or the reach of what I can just do with my own voice. It’s me amplifying a platform that is here to do good and here to make leaps and bounds in our community and for Black people as a whole.”

A member of the Harvard Diversity Project since 2019, Emani spent months preparing for the prestigious annual summer debate contest. Chosen from among thousands of African-American students across metro Atlanta for HDCDO, Emani participated in an intense series of interviews before being selected for the highly competitive pre-collegiate program.

To prepare for the competition, Emani and her cohort trained for one year with the HDCDP, where they learned philosophy, argumentation, social sciences, and other curricula developed by Fleming. Students also practiced with popular debate topics and debated each other to improve their skills. That ultimately prepared them to compete, ready for any argument that could be presented.

Emani and Jayla debated the resolution titled, Should NATO Significantly Increase Defense Commitments to the Baltic States? Their winning argument – that NATO should step up its defense commitments in the Baltic states – took home the top prize.

“We wanted to win, but we also wanted to represent our program well, because we knew how hard we worked,” she said. “It wasn’t just me and Jayla in our program – we had eight other teams behind us,” she said. “So, we entered the competition helping each other, having that familial competition and representing our program and Black youth as a whole while also looking toward the bigger picture. That was our goal entering the competition.”

A Scholar With a Mission

Aside from being crowned a debate champion, Emani is more focused than ever on her future. A tenacious and ambitious scholar with an impressive 4.6 GPA, Emani plans to pursue a career in medical technology that will combine her passion and interest in medicine and technology.

“I want to be an innovator, a revolutionary,” said Emani, who plans to apply to Harvard, Stanford and other select Ivy League schools and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). One of her goals is to create equity. Using medical technology, she wants to innovate new ideas, new philosophies, new ways of implementation to provide equity to those who need it – not just in America, but in those countries as well.

“My ultimate goal is to create a community like the community that’s been created for me,” Emani said. “I’ve always been a STEM kid, and with the merger between the medical and technology fields – two fields where women and Black women specifically are underrepresented – I want to cultivate communities in those spaces with the diversity that’s necessary.”

Thanks to HDCDP, Fleming said scholars like Emani now have the opportunity to showcase their brilliance.

“This program is important because it’s all about advancing Black pathways through equitable education,” Fleming said. “It’s all about giving young Black scholars access to the quality of education that they deserve. And by doing that, we level the playing field and we create opportunities for students like Emani to show the world what’s possible when they are given access.”

Britton couldn’t be more proud of Emani and what she’s accomplished. She said Emani’s tenacity and pursuit of excellence impacts everything – and everyone – around her.

“What I cherish the most about Emani is her willingness to jump, her ability to calculate the trajectory of that leap, and her ability to land firmly on her feet in any given situation or challenge,” Britton said. “When you’re in a space with her, she has a frenetic energy that transforms the people around her. She requires everyone around her to meet at this certain level of excellence. And when you think that she’s reached that level of excellence, she pushes through and delivers something even more. She’s not utilizing this for herself. She’s using it for the good of everyone around her, and that’s what makes this win exponetially satisfying.”

The program has certainly bolstered Emani’s self-esteem, and she’s more confident than ever about her future.

“When you learn how to convince, communicate, and connect with people, that can follow you anywhere. I’ve learned from debate how to be confident in my abilities, how to properly represent myself, and how to stand in my brilliance,” she said. “This space has allowed me to grow in confidence to be expressive, to be unapologetically Black and excellent, and to unapologetically light up a room when I walk into it.”

For more information about the Harvard Diversity Project, visit: https://harvarddcdp.org/.

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