By Lincoln DePradine
When a group of young students gathered downtown last Saturday at the University of Toronto Schools (UTS) for a debate competition – called the inaugural “1834 Youth Debates’’ – the organizers, judges, parents and others attending were so impressed with their performances, that one person remarked that he foresees a future Canadian leader among the youth debaters.
“In this room, I see a future prime minister,’’ Rob Davis, a former City of Toronto councillor, commented at the closing ceremony of the debate.
“The skills that you learn today, and developed in preparation for today’s competition, are the skills that are going to be with you for the rest of your life; are the skills that you’re going to utilize to be a successful member of society,’’ added Davis, who also noted the potential of the debaters to become city councilors, school board trustees, teachers, bankers, lawyers and other professionals.
“All of these skills, no matter what are your aspirations, are going to serve you well,’’ said Davis.
The debate tournament, organized in cooperation with UTS, was an initiative of Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC), a non-profit, multi-partisan group founded in 2004.
The planned debates are part of OBVC’s “1834 Fellowship series of programs’’, which “aims to expose youth to the challenging issues affecting them and their futures, and equip them with the critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that will benefit them in their educational and professional pursuits’’, said Ian Allen, vice-chair of Operation Black Vote Canada.
The OBVC’s 1834 programs, including the debates, are named after the year slavery was abolished in Canada. The programs are designed to “train the next generation of Black leaders and decision-makers, locally and globally,’’ according to OBVC.
“Our tournament today, and our programs over the last several weeks, are our attempt to plant the seeds today that will grow into the leadership of tomorrow,’’ Allen said. “We’re building the foundation for the next generation of leaders to take their place at the decision-making tables across our country.’’
In preparation for last Saturday’s event, debating coaching sessions were held over a six-week period, with 16 Black students from across Ontario.
The structure used, said organizers, was the “Canadian Parliamentary debate’’ and students took “competing perspectives on a wide range of issues’’.
The students’ debated on topics such as “Policing within Schools’’; “Pricing of Post-Secondary Education’’; “Social Media’’; and “Mandatory Voting in Canada’’.
Two sets of teams – one in a junior category, and the other senior – participated in the competition.
Caleb Truscott was the top debater in the senior teams’ competition. He beat Danika Elias into second place.
Janel Azza, a Grade 7 student, was the winner among juniors, followed Nubybia Thomas, a Grade 9 student.
The quality of debate was “excellent’’, Dr Carl James, one of the competition’s judges, told The Caribbean Camera.
“I was very, very impressed,’’ said James, a York University professor. “Debating helps students to build research skills, to build an argument, to be able to respond and to be able to think critically even at the moment; and also to be able to get counter-arguments to arguments that are presented to them. So, for me, a debate is an excellent tool that we can give young people to be able to grow.’’
Rosemary Evans, principal of UTS, said the students confronted their public speaking fear, “challenged themselves to speak up and to explore different perspectives’’, and also were able to “think hard and on their feet’’.
“We’re so proud of your efforts,’’ Evans told the students, who all received certificates and medals. “You learnt how to articulate arguments and to substantiate your position. These are life skills that you’re going to carry with you. We look forward to following your development. We’re going to wait to hear your name coming forward as leaders in Canada and beyond.’’