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Baltimore students make history as first African-American women’s team to win national debate championship

BY Preta Peace Namasaba June 17, 2024 4:55 PM EDT

Nevaeh Rita Sencion and Saidah Ervin, students from Baltimore City College High School have made history as the first African-American women’s team to win the national debate championship. The duo knocked out the top-ranked high school policy debate team in the country to emerge victorious in the prestigious National Catholic Forensic League’s policy debate tournament held in Chicago. Their historic feat is an inspiration for aspiring debaters everywhere.

“They announced second place first, and we heard the other team. We were both just like in shock. Like we knew we had it in us, but like being able to hear in front of a room that big and hearing all the cheers for us is a really, really big feeling,” Ervin said about her team’s historic win.

The students engaged in a rigorous process on their road to victory, participating in five two-hour debates over two days. They were required to knowledgeably speak on prevailing policy issues such as increasing social security, providing a basic income, and fiscal redistribution, among others. Although Sencion and Ervin felt exhausted and scared at times during the competition, they relied on each other to stay strong. As the tournament progressed, the pair began to believe in their ability to make it to the finish line.

Both students have been engaged in debate activities since middle school. Ervin’s love for  arguing and research drew her to debate, “a competitive research activity.” She wants to be a lawyer and will be heading to the University of Kentucky as a leadership scholar. Sencion, who will be attending Wake Forest University on a full debate scholarship credits the debate team for opening up opportunities for her to pursue higher education. The two will continue their debate careers in college.

As they prepare to graduate high school, Sencion and Ervin are excited to serve as role models for young girls who are passionate about debate. They acknowledge the legacy of the Black debaters and other Black programs who preceded them and laid the groundwork for them to succeed. The champions intend to follow in their footsteps. Their ultimate goal is to return and serve as coaches and judges for the Baltimore City College Speech and Debate Society, inspiring and mentoring the next generation of debaters.

“We have the very unique responsibility – and almost indebtedness – to other Black debaters, other Black programs, the legacy of Black debate that’s come before us that has opened the doors for us to be able to continue to advocate for ourselves, for our communities. We talk not just about the policies but about being students in inner-city Baltimore and being Black women in this activity,” Sencion said about the team’s duty to give back to the community.