Learning to Lead through Debate

Miami Herald 

With its mission to “cultivate leadership and critical thinking skills in Miami’s urban public school students,” the Miami-Dade Urban Debate League’s free summer program taught several dozen students about teamwork, cooperative learning, academic excellence, critical reflection and individual student growth.

Available to middle- and high-school students, the camp’s goal is to “empower the participants to become confident, successful citizens, who are advocates for themselves and their community and who successfully graduate from high school, pursue college degrees and become active leaders in their community.”

University of Miami School of Communications Professor David Steinberg directs the UM Debate Department and was main instructor for the camp held at UM. He said in an email that “debate produces self-confidence, critical thinking, reading, writing and speaking competencies, organization and time management, and perhaps most important of all, listening skills.”

“Students find their voices by participating in Miami-Dade Urban Debate League,” he said. “For many outside of Debate League no one takes time and care to listen to them. Here they have an audience who cares and respects what they have to say. That is absolutely empowering.”

Cliff Schulman, board chairman of the Miami Urban Debate League and a partner at Weiss Serota, agreed. “Competitive debate gave me the professional life I have enjoyed as an attorney for the past 45 years,” Schulman said. “We want to give these disadvantaged kids that same kind of chance.”

“Our students find out that they can settle their differences with words, and not with violence,” he said in email. “One young debater said to me: ‘No one has ever told me that I could be good at something.’ But through the Urban Debate League he discovered if he applied himself, he not only could be good, he could be great.”

Schulman volunteers countless hours as the Debate League’s program director.

A number of prominent speakers also visited the full-day camp, held Aug. 7-11, to educate and inspire the students. Among these were former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo A. “Willy” Ferrer (now leader of Holland & Knight’s Global Compliance and Investigations team) and former Miami-Dade County School Board Member Wilbert “Tee” Holloway.

Primarily from minority families, more than 80 percent of students enrolled in the camp and in the group’s school-year program successfully graduate from high school, with many going on to college. To learn more, visit https://miamiurbandebate.org/.