Author Ro Wright (The People Next Door) visited Texas Southern University to fellowship with their debate team. Wright was a student debater when he was in High School. Since then he has helped to provide platforms for Spoken Word and Debate in many cities around the country. Ro will launch a new television series called, The Lit Debate, on Congo TV Network this Spring.
“My father taught me the art of Debate and Public Speaking when I was a kid. I competed in the NAACP Act-So competitions and other state competitions throughout my younger years. Public Speaking is an overlooked artform and I believe people who can speak their perspective with confidence and with facts can get in any door they want to get in, in this world,” said Wright.
While TSU is mostly known for the ‘Ocean of Soul’ Band there are various other programs on the campus that sometimes go undernoticed nationally. One of those programs is the Speech & Debate Team. Texas Southern University’s Sigma Pi Alpha Forensic and Dialectic Symposium was organized in 1949 by Dr. Thomas F. Freeman. The program is now celebrating it’s 70th Anniversary. At it’s initial meeting the team selected the name Sigma Pi Alpha to represent Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the earliest Greek philosophers who set an example in oratory and dialectics. While Dr. Freeman is still engaged and on campus, Dr. Gloria Batiste-Roberts is the current Head Coach.
“Our students work hard and they take pride in what we do. They all understand the legacy they are defending,” said Dr. Roberts. In 2018, TSU won the 28th International Speech & Debate Tournament in Montreal Quebec. “Traveling around the world has built a competitve spirit that will take them to higher heights and a family that will remain with them for the rest of their lives,” she added.
Wright was invited by student debater, Orlando Sutton, Jr. who is also “Mr. TSU”. Sutton heard Wright was in Houston for his book tour and invited him to speak to their students. Wright spoke with the students about his new television show but he also listened to them discuss how they research today’s hottest issues when they are preparing for their debates. “These students are true competitors. They have their own system and they have learned how to work their mechanics extensively,” said Wright.
“You have to have knowledge when you go up to defend your side,” said Maya Williams, student debater.
Fahnbulleh Nahab is a TSU student from Ghana in West Africa. He and his debate partner have won First Place in two competitions this season. “We do a lot of research and we even have Saturday workshops to gather research together,” explained Nahab.
Dr. Freeman actually taught Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Morehouse College in 1947. When asked of the kind of student Dr. King was, Freeman responded, “I didn’t even know he was in the class,” he said with an honest expression. “About 15 years later, Martin reminded me he was in my class.” In 2019, while TSU celebrates it’s 70th Anniversary for the department it’s also the 70th year that Dr. Freeman has been at TSU.
“We have a winning environment. It’s an effort to maintain the heritage. The TSU Debate Team has a reputation of winning and these students don’t want to be the ones who ruined that reputation. So, they put forth extra effort to achieve excellence,” said Dr. Freeman. “Every student has their own individuality. They have to be eager to learn and eager to develop. I encourage each student and provide opportunities for the student to blossom within their own individuality.”
Walking through the halls of their Debate facility is like walking in an athletic facility. There are trophies and awards stacked as high as the ceiling. Photos of the school’s debate legacy cover every square inch of the walls. The students even have their own research room in the Debate facility.
Recently, TSU’s Debate Team brought home 20 total awards including five 1st Place Awards at the 2019 International Debate Championship in Berlin, Germany. “We work very hard to win as a team. There are 37 of us and we all challenge each other. We make each other better,” said Asia Hurst, TSU Speech and Debate student / Vice President. TSU has won the HBCU National Speech & Debate Competition for two consecutive years. In 2019 they took home45 total awards including eight 1st Places. Seventeen HBCUs competed.
Dr. Freeman will celebrate his 100th Birthday on June 30, 2019.