Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Dr Toinette Gunn of Chicago Debates Is Helping To Change Our World

Link to the Full Interview

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Chicago Debates addresses Chicago Public School students’ lack of access to key educational opportunities by providing them with an after-school program that cultivates academic, social-emotional, career, and leadership skills that will ultimately strengthen their future economic stability, break cycles of poverty, and promote civic engagement. We bring the transformative activity of debate to students who otherwise would not have access to its benefits.

Competitive debate is a form of cooperative learning. It creates an interactive and rigorous learning environment where students navigate social challenges in constructive and collaborative ways. Specifically, debate teaches content knowledge, reading, research, critical thinking, and analytical skills, and it also prepares students with 21st-century skills for college, career, and leadership success by developing social/emotional capacity and noncognitive skills such as self-confidence and perseverance. Overall, debate supports students in reaching their fullest potential. The skills students glean from participating in debate not only have a positive impact on their academic performance but also serve to prepare them to lead in whatever fields they choose. This preparation propels them to a more equitable future, boosts their educational attainment and, in turn, helps them to be more competitive in a global economy.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Academic debate has been proven to transform the lives of students and give them access to opportunities they may not otherwise have had. Chicago Debates works to provide Chicago Public School students with opportunities that bridge the educational opportunity gap that many of them face. Our work and impact was recently featured on WGN9’s Daytime Chicago segment highlighting Fatima Mendoza, one of our graduating seniors.

Fatima is a Class of 2022 graduate and is making history as the first student from Hancock College Prep to ever be accepted to Harvard University — and on a full scholarship! Fatima shared the role that debate played in helping her to apply and be accepted to her dream school, saying, “During my time as a debater, I had the opportunity to compete with students from a plethora of Chicago Public Schools. Prior to this experience, I did not have many encounters with students from schools outside of my neighborhood, nor did I practice public speaking. I found that as I advanced in city-wide tournaments, I became infinitely more confident. I was able to embrace an argumentative style of writing and speaking that I would have never realized I excelled at had I not been given the opportunity. Boldly showcasing these skills ultimately gave me the reassurance that I am just as qualified as students from highly-resourced high schools and neighborhoods. I knew I wanted to challenge the norm upon applying to college, and it was this newfound reassurance that gave me the confidence to apply to Harvard.”