Baltimore City College’s First African American Women’s Debate Team Wins National Championship

by Gee NY

This Baltimore City College High School dynamic debate duo has a lot to celebrate. After competing in the National Catholic Forensic League’s Grand National Tournament in Chicago during Memorial Day weekend, Nevaeh Rita Sencion and Saidah Ervin made history, and now they have the trophies to prove it!

As the first African American women to win the policy debate tournament in the competition, the ladies feel confident that all of their hard work and dedication to the subject paid off in the end.

“They announced second place first, and we heard the other team. We were both just like in shock,” said Ervin. “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.”

Going up against some of the most esteemed speech and debate teams in the nation, Sencion and Ervin stood their ground, participating in five debates over two days, each being two hours in length.

Moreover, through hard work and perseverance, the ladies knocked the top-ranked high school policy debate team in the country out of the competition by one vote.

Their topic included the following: “United States federal government should substantially increase fiscal redistribution by providing a federal jobs guarantee, increasing social security, and/or providing a basic income. I think that’s the exact way it’s said in the policy,” said Ervin.

Although the process of tapping into a subject with so many layers was intense, and at times during the competition they felt exhausted and scared, the pair leaned on one another in moments when they wanted to give up.

“I felt we started to believe in ourselves a little more and believe that we could make it to the end,” said Sencion.

They prepared various speeches for the competition. Some even included poetry, making the win that much more significant in the end.

“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,” Sencion said. “We talk not just about the policies but about being students in inner-city Baltimore and being Black women in this activity.”

Both students have been on debate teams since middle school, and as they prepare to graduate high school in the coming weeks, Sencion and Ervin are excited to serve as role models for the new generation of girls who look like them and share their passion for debate.

“I like arguing,” Ervin noted. “I wanna be a lawyer. And I really like research. Research is one of my favorite things to do. Daniels always says that debate is a competitive research activity.”

As the director of speech and debate at City College, Patrick Daniels has led BCC’s Speech and Debate Society for more than 20 years. He reiterated the importance of a win like this for not only his students but Baltimore schools overall.

“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” said Daniels. “Not only for the city of Baltimore but for the debate community to offer change and have a vision for the future beyond the traditional vision of debate being an all-white, all-male activity.”

After graduation, Ervin and Sencion will continue their debate careers in college.

Sencion credits the debate team as the vehicle for opening up opportunities for them to pursue higher education. She will attend Wake Forest University on a full debate scholarship.

Ervin will head to the University of Kentucky as a leadership scholar. Ultimately, however, the goal is to return to their roots as coaches and judges for BCC’s Speech and Debate Society.

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