AKA AKAdemy’s The Great Debate

The AKA AKAdemy’s inaugural student debate took place March 20 at the Palladium Theater.



ST. PETERSBURG – “You have all learned the power of spoken word and that, ultimately, intelligence is not debatable,” said Emmy Award-winning journalist Trevor Pettiford, on loan from Bay News 9.

His sentiments encapsulated the inaugural Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Zeta Upsilon Omega Chapter’s AKA AKAdemy “The Great Debate” program held March 20 at the Palladium Theater.

The evening’s event was the brainchild of Dr. Delphinia Davis, who said the art of debating helps teach students how to learn and think critically.

“These young men and women worked vigorously with their coaches on controversial topics that tested their perspectives. In doing so, they learned how to communicate more effectively, how to speak, write and present their ideas in an articulate manner,” she averred.

In conjunction with the Youth Development Foundation of Pinellas County (YDF), the AKA AKAdemy has offered youth development activities for more than 23 years. With the focus of the academy being on education and career development through its workshops, ACT test prep and homework tutoring, they continue to prepare students for success in school and in life.

Thanks to the YDF and the Juvenile Welfare Board, the academy is able to offer creative and relevant activities that engage, educate and encourage our youth.

The AKA AKAdemy’s annual curriculum has expanded over the years to include “Girl Talk” and “Boys to Men” mentoring sessions, financial literacy, health and wellness workshops, college tours and public speaking and presentation programs. This debate is one of their many signature initiatives.

AKA AKAdemy Director Manitia Moultrie said the scholars met, discussed and researched their positions to develop their persuasive arguments.

“It occurred to me last night as I was listening to them rehearse that through research and persuasive discussions—for and against—they have actually learned to listen and appreciate the opposing position.”

Helping coach the debate geniuses for the middle school teams were James Jackson, III (Omega Psi Phi Fraternity) and AKA member Dharvette Barwick with the topic: “Should students be required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance?

The high school coaches, Ste’Phan Lane (Omega Psi Phi Fraternity) and AKA member Kimberly McMillion, helped their charges with the topic of: “Should ownership of assault weapon be supported by the Second Amendment?”

The importance of the night’s debate may have been lost on the scholars because they were too busy researching their topics and rehearsing their speeches. But for the parents in the audience, they understood that being able to think outside of their own perspective and debate a subject that they may not necessarily agree with will help propel them through college and career.

Mayor Rick Kriseman wasn’t just on hand to wish the 23 students good luck, he was also one of the judges, along with Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, Director of Pinellas Technical College Boe Norwood and attorneys Brandon Williams and Carrie Pilon. No one wanted their jobs that evening.

With charisma, these future leaders married factual evidence with emotional conviction. The art of rhetoric was mastered on that stage, but there could only be one winner.

For the middle schoolers, the team that debated against requiring students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance took home the trophy, while the high school team debating in the affirmative to assault weapons being supported by the Second Amendment nudged out their opposition.

All student participants were awarded scholarships towards furthering their education, but before handing them out, soror Yolundra Whitehead acknowledged the scholars’ stellar performance structure, organization, self-esteem, control and ability to speak effectively.

“These young people did a herculean job tonight,” she said. “We have witnessed an exceptional display of academic excellence through the art of effective debating.”

Middle school scholars: Zaniya Biddines, Mykenzi Davis-Cowart, Zharia King, Shania McDonald, Serena Vazquez, Denia Averette, Markira Green, Zoei Johnson, Nandi Lynch and Michael Thomas

High school scholars: Caprice Colquitt, Taylor Cooper, Maya Hughes, Cur’necia Martin, Rayauna McDonald, Adrian Elijah White, Jalen White, Mikayla Fudge, Kendrick Gordan, Jade Harmen, Na’talia Mitchell, Jasmine Shedrick and Richelle Still.

About Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. 

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. is the oldest Greek-letter organization established in America by black women and was founded on January 15, 1908, at Howard University. Led by International President Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, the organization connects thousands of college-trained women who give of themselves to support community service projects and scholarship programs.

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