These Black Students From Atlanta Are Competing And Winning On Harvard’s Debate Floor
Brandon Fleming, the founder of the Harvard Diversity Project, talks to Blavity about how is program is changing the lives of students in Atlanta.
With the mantra “scholarship meets culture,” students of the prestigious Harvard Diversity Project are bringing both their brilliance and Blackness to the Ivy League’s debate room floor.
Every summer, 25 to 30 minority students in the metro Atlanta area are chosen to be a part of the Harvard Diversity Project. The group then devotes 10 months to the art of critical thinking, public speaking and argumentation, training and sharpening their skills as they prepare for a residency and debate competition at Harvard College. The project’s founder and CEO, Brandon Fleming, believes that the exposure to education, leadership and opportunity this program offers its students is critical to the future success of Black and brown children nationwide.
“[There is] a growing opportunity gap and severe need for minority development,” Fleming told Blavity. “Education is the solution because it can either be a pipeline to poverty, or a pipeline to prosperity. The Harvard Diversity Project is creating the latter.”
The program drew the eyes of many, including sponsors like the Chick-fil-A Foundation, the Coca-Cola Company, UPS, Turner Broadcasting and more, not only because of the team's winning streak, but for the program's mission as well. As more people begin to recognize the privilege of education and its power — as well as those who may try to use their status to manipulate its systems — Black voices in the academic space are becoming ever more important.
Fleming considered this in comparison to the recent college admissions scandal, in which celebrities and those with economic power used their money to buy admission to elite colleges for their children.
“The scandal exposed an existential truth that many people had already known and been fighting against for years,” Fleming said. “The disparities resulting from educational inequality only make it more challenging for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, because others possess the social and economic capital to secure their positions at the top. This creates the false illusion that those existing at the top and the bottom deserve to be there, respectively, and the Harvard Diversity Project exists to change that narrative.”
To help shape the narrative, Fleming began with his prior home: Atlanta.
According to a study conducted by Bloomberg, Atlanta reigns as the city with the largest income disparity in the United States. The statistic fueled Fleming’s passion for the city’s children. He wholeheartedly believes that nothing can hold these students back except for access. However, in his position as assistant coach to Harvard’s debate team, he can help solve this dilemma.
By creating a pipeline of opportunities for students, the project opens up both physical and mental possibilities.
“[The project] instills within them the audacity to dream,” Fleming said. “It enhances their perception of self. Young people can’t be what they can’t see. Through this program, we impart identity, establish a pedigree and ultimately change trajectories. We sent [our students] to study alongside and compete against 400 gifted scholars from around the world at Harvard [...] our students dominated and won the competition.”
One Harvard Diversity Project alum has already applied to the Ivy League and was admitted with a full-ride scholarship, helping to prove that Flemings belief in investing in the education of Black children will yield the best within them.