Sojourner Truth Academy – Team Spotlight

Sojourner Truth team members

Camille, our communications intern, spoke with members of the Sojourner Truth Academy team.

Sticking with debate throughout the various challenges of COVID-19, distance learning, and returning to in-person learning hasn’t been easy- but Sojourner Truth Academy in North Minneapolis has kept a strong debate team over the past few seasons. They shared with us why it’s worth it. Read on to learn what the Sojourner Truth Academy coaches and students are getting out of debate this season.

The Coaches’ Perspective

Kate Olson is the head coach at Sojourner Truth Academy. This is her fifth year coaching. She is joined by Coach Ben Babcock, who has been coaching for three years.

Neither came to the activity with debate experience – but they found reasons to love it.

“I used to do a lot of theater. I came into it totally blind, but after going to the first debate and watching the excitement of these kids – and just the pure joy on their faces coming out – that got me coming back and doing it every year, and wanting to get a little more knowledgeable for myself so I could teach it better. I love that excitement for their futures and what debate can bring them. It’s just so fun to encourage them,” says Kate.

Ben shares,

“I just love to coach because I love the opportunity to build relationships with the kids. It’s also great to see how excited they get about water quality, and past topics like colonizing Mars and police violence. I’m amazed at some of the evidence and stuff they just come up with on the top of their heads when we’re just talking in class. It’s just great to see them excel. The kids keep coming back and once they get started, they start loving it,” Ben tells us.

“You don’t get a lot of kids excited about doing extra work outside of school, but they sincerely are excited about doing it. Students come with pages of notes scripted up before their tournaments. They also just pump each other up really well and hold each other accountable. That’s why I came to coaching- just to see all of that come together,” Kate tells us.

Kate continues,

“There is deepness to what they learn. One of the things that I’ve heard from debaters in the past is, “I really like debate because I’ve got anger problems, and it’s really helped me figure out that I gotta stop. I gotta hear both sides of the story, I have to think things through. I can’t just throw stuff out.” I just thought, “That’s where you went with debate? That’s amazing.”

“They also come to us with the bigger reasons as to why they shouldn’t do things, or talk about changes they want to see in the classrooms. It’s so cool to see them just debate in just their classrooms with their teachers,” says Ben.

Kate and Ben introduced us to three eighth grade students, who shared their experiences with us. Read on to learn more about their thoughts on debate.

The Students’ Perspective

Damiyah has been doing debate for 3 years and is in the eighth grade.

Skyy has been debating for two years and is in eight grade.

Both Jared and Olivia are trying debate out for the first time and are also in eighth grade.

What inspired you to join debate?

Olivia: I’ll have so much information on one thing but another person won’t listen, but they’re still trying to argue about it and I just hate the feeling of not being listened to, you know? Debate would be a good way to get listened to, but also be able to get new information about different things and subjects.

Damiyah: In sixth grade, I was very good at arguing and a lot of people already knew I wanted to be a child advocate lawyer. They recommended it for me because it would show me how to do what I want to do in the future. With how it’s set up, it can give me my first step. I joined in sixth grade, and ever since then I took it seriously and I just kept pushing. I’m in novice this year.

Did anything surprise you about debate?

Damiyah: Nothing really surprised me much, but it definitely opened up my mind. I can go farther on something that I’m arguing about if I know the research, like with packets of research that we have now. You can go farther when you know what you’re talking about.

Olivia: It helped me realize what’s more valuable than what’s not. It’s basically helping me decipher what is worth talking about and what isn’t. That’s more of a mental thing. This has been helping me. It’s like pushing my mind farther, and I like it.

What do you think of this year’s debate topic, water resources?

Skyy: It’s nice, because the negative side and the affirmative side- neither of them are wrong, they both got a point to it.

Jared: Honestly, I think it’s like a very important topic to talk about ‘cause not many people talk about it. It gets ignored.

Olivia: I personally really like this topic because I deep dived into this topic a few years ago because I was genuinely interested. It started when I read about this one female who figured out a way to process water so it’s drinkable for a country who really needed it. I’m just glad that I finally got a chance to talk about it. Pretty cool.

Damiyah: It’s very different from the topics during the last three years that I’ve been doing debate. It’s something new.

What do you think more people should know about debate?

Damiyah: What I think people should know more about debate is that it’s not even competitive really. It’s like more of a fun thing that you get to experience that opens up your mind and it helps with arguing about certain topics while being respectful. It can get competitive, going against certain people who might get nervous, but it’s still like, just the fun of it.

Jared: For me, it opens a whole new world for you. At first it’s just, like, arguing back and forth, but then you’ll understand that it’s understanding the other person’s side as well.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share?

Olivia: I wanna shout out Jared. He’s the funniest partner I’ve ever had- that’s really uplifting. I wanna shoutout to Mrs. Olson and Mr. Babcock for actually putting this together and giving us a chance to do something different. It’s definitely needed for the school.

Jared: Okay, wait. Someone kidnapped Olivia, and someone else is speaking for Olivia, because that’s not Olivia. (laughs)