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Celebrate International Stuttering Awareness Day With Famous Former Debaters

Famous Former Debaters Collage

This August, 13-year old Brayden Harrington presented at the Democratic National Convention. Millions watched as Brayden explained that he and Joe Biden are “in the same club” – they stutter. It was a moment that brought new awareness to stuttering.

Stuttering impacts around 1% of the US population. On International Stuttering Awareness Day visit the We Stutter website to learn more, and also check out the stories of these famous former debaters people who are also part of Brayden and Biden’s club.

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En Voz Alta: Lizi Lema Puma Lifts Her Voice 

Creatividad, Expresión, y Pasión in the Spanish Debate League

Spanish Debate League Student Lizi Lima Puma
Besides competing in the Spanish Debate League, Lizi is passionate about making art and fashion styling.

COVID-19 hasn’t stopped Lizi Lema Puma from creating. She still dreams up new recipes in the kitchen, imagines new outfits, and creates drawings. And when Spanish Debate season rolls around this spring, she’ll continue to compete, whether virtual or in person. 

Lizi competes on the Spanish Debate team at Southwest High School in Minneapolis. Her dream is to attend college and become a fashion stylist. Debate is instilling the confidence and communication skills to help take her there!

Learn more about Lizi in her Monday mini-interview:  


Why did you join the Spanish Debate League? 

I wanted to share my voice and inspire others to not be afraid of sharing their voices and opinions in subjects that can be important for them and their communities.


What do you enjoy most about debate?

I enjoy meeting new people, making connections, and sharing our voices, thoughts, and opinions together. 


What takes a debater from good to great? 

Being specific and direct. Pay attention to dates, sources, author, the way it is written, statistics, and understand what the evidence is about and how to use it.


What have you learned from debate? 

I learned to be confident and develop communication and critical thinking skills. If you want to learn Spanish, this is the perfect opportunity to practice, learn new vocabulary, and debate about important and interesting topics. I, as a Spanish speaker, got to meet new people, be firm, and develop skills.


What did you think of the debate topic?

This year’s topic was about social media. I think it is a great subject to debate since everyone uses it and we should be aware of the pros and cons.


What advice would you give a brand-new debater? 

Practice, study both sides of the debate, and be ready to defend your side like never before.

We need fluent Spanish speakers to make the Spanish Debate League possible this spring. No debate experience is needed to become a virtual judge! Connect with us: 

Coach Spotlight: Reflections on National Coaches Day 2020

Celebrating National Coaches Day 2020

Thank You Graphic Image
Thank a coach today!

It’s a challenging time to be a coach. With the all new virtual debate format, plus the many demands of being a classroom teacher right now, this is a truly tough year. Our coaches are facing it with optimism and commitment. There are over 30 coaches on our roster for the national topic season alone, and even more for our middle school, Spanish Debate, East African, and Financial Literacy programs. On National Coaches Day, we want to honor them and their efforts to make the 2020 debate season work. Here are 12 coaches making a difference for students, what they’ve learned from coaching, what motivates them, and more.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Debate Keeps Surprising Liz Stiras


Liz Stiras Headshot
Liz Stiras (Courtesy of Soona Minneapolis)

When she was 13, Liz Stiras was walking through the hallway at school and saw a debate recruitment poster. She shrugged and said, “I have nothing to do after school today.” Once she arrived at her first debate practice, she fell in love. She never could have imagined what other surprises debate would bring into her life! Liz looks back at her experience, how it shaped her career, and what motivates her to give back:

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“No Decision About Us Without Us”: Ridwan Mohamed Leads on the Minneapolis Youth Council

See What One of 2019’s Most Inspiring Teens Is Up to Today.

Ridwan Mohamed Minneapolis Youth Congress
Ridwan Mohamed (middle right) poses with mentors on the day she was sworn into office.

Ridwan (center, right) on the day she was sworn into office. 

In 2019, CityPages named her one of the Twin Cities’ 9 Most Inspiring Teens.

One year later, the former Patrick Henry HS debater is putting her argumentation skills in action to benefit her community.


In the time since City Pages named Ridwan Mohamed one of the Twin Cities “9 Most Inspiring Teens,” she’s been hard at work: graduating from Patrick Henry High School, becoming an intern at Genesys Works Twin Cities, entering Hamline University, and serving on the Minneapolis Youth Congress. 


“My responsibility with the Minneapolis Youth Congress is really to utilize my voice to the best of my abilities. Our sole job is to make this city we live in a better place,” Ridwan tells us. The organization, which hosts 40-50 representative students in Minneapolis, has the power to collaborate with elected officials in Minneapolis, including the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Public Schools, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Hennepin County, Hennepin County Library, and the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board. 


“Our motto is ‘no decision about us without us’ because we believe that we deserve to have a say in anything that pertains to youth. That means a lot to us, considering how elders normally misjudge youth because they believe that young folks don’t have what it takes or they don’t know better,” Ridwan tells us.


Members of the MYC had the opportunity to choose from seven committees. Ridwan spent her service as a member of the employment committee, and it was her first choice. “I know how hard it was for me to find a job at 16. I believe in giving resources to people my age,” says Ridwan. “When I was doing my internship downtown, I learned that a lot of youth hung around in the area and didn’t have much to do because they didn’t know where to start. It came to the point where officials were asking for them to be removed. It drove me to want to make a difference for them, especially because the majority of the youth downtown were POC.” 


Ridwan’s solution favored reaching out over removal. Ridwan and the other members of the employment committee organized a Saturday job fair for youth, offered resume help, and did mock interviews. The program helped connect Minneapolis students with skill-building work for the past two years. It was youth leadership in a nutshell: Ridwan saw challenges facing her peers, constructed a positive plan to create opportunity, and saw it through.My goal was to make a change around the city and I can definitely say I have achieved that goal, Ridwan concludes. 


Besides the Saturday job fair, Ridwan has also assisted with state cleanliness initiatives, COVID-19 awareness projects, and participatory budgeting. Her advice for becoming an effective changemaker? Turn inward. Before she began working for change in Minneapolis, she was intentional and introspective about seeking change within. “I wanted to start internally first. I did this by challenging myself and putting myself in situations where I doubted my potential, and when I finally overcame that it helped me a lot. This helped me be fierce and powerful,” says Ridwan. 


For Ridwan, that process began with her time on the debate team at Patrick Henry HS: “From debate, I got to learn so much about things that were happening in the world. It helped me become aware enough to bring it up and relate to current issues around Minneapolis. Debate helped me see my potential. I often told myself: if I can debate about it, I can talk about it.”


What’s next for Ridwan: her first year of undergraduate study at Hamline University. She expects her skills to remain useful in this new setting. “I learned how to facilitate conversations, how to communicate with adults, and how to advocate for change,” Ridwan says. “I learned how to execute plans, write proposals, and how to be comfortable with silence – lots of good skills.” 


We wish Ridwan the best of luck in college in beyond, where she’ll no doubt continue to find ways to make our community a more equitable place to live. 

Your support enables students to take ownership of their own power, helping them become the leaders we need to solve today and tomorrow’s most pressing issues. Make a one time or monthly gift today: 

Why Patrick Garay Heelan Invests in Debate

Patrick Garay Heelan Headshot
Courtesy of Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

As a Senior Wealth Advisor at Bremer Wealth, Patrick Garay Heelan knows a thing or two about solid investments. He spends his workday helping families grow their funds and achieve their goals. In his spare time, he supports the Minnesota Urban Debate League as an Advocate for Debate. In his expert opinion, debate is worth your dollar:

“Debate helps you express yourself, helps others see your point of view, and creates a sense of self-awareness. As a student, it improves all your other metrics. If you want to invest in the community, this is a choice with a high ‘bang for your buck’, so to speak.”

Patrick never competed in debate himself, although he wishes he had. “I’m passionate about the fact that kids need to know this is an option. I was always told I had to do an activity, but in my mind, that meant a sport. I wish I had seen this was an option… I could have really started developing these skills at 14, instead of 24, when I entered law school.”

Another reason he sees value in funding debate: long-term payoff for the whole community. “I like the idea of kids taking up these serious issues – researching both sides and then forming opinions themselves,” he says of this year’s topic, criminal justice reform. “We’re all taking a hard look at what we can do to help resolve the issues that have led to the tragic death of George Floyd. Are our structures set up to give everyone access? Are we an inclusive community? Have we done enough? The folks in debate are going to become future leaders answering these questions. It’s important they can look into these issues.”

Patrick makes his gift to the MNUDL each month through the Advocates for Debate program. He enjoys the convenience factor, but more importantly, sees power in sustainability: “I have two little kids of my own. I want them to have the opportunity to debate if they go to a St. Paul Public high school, so I’m really glad I’m a part of the Minnesota Urban Debate League.”

COVID-19 has brought challenges to nonprofits of all types. When you become an Advocate for Debate like Patrick, you’ll help the MNUDL weather turbulent times with a consistent donation in a budget-friendly monthly amount you can set and forget.

Join our monthly giving program and/or increase the size of your current sustaining gift here:

Board Spotlight: How Vanya Hogen is Helping Debaters Listen & Be Heard


Vanya HS Debate Photo + portrait
Vanya Hogen made a gift to our Virtual Learning Supply Drive in recognition of what debate has done for her. She is pictured at left with her debate partner, Lisa Keckler, competing at a high school debate tournament in South Dakota.

There’s no doubt – debate has been a thread running through Vanya Hogen’s life.


Her parents met on their college debate team. It was Vanya’s mother who encouraged her to join the debate team at her Sioux Falls high school, where she met an opponent who’s become her close friend of 30 years. Recently, her daughter debated at Highland Park Senior High School. And now, she’s a member of the MNUDL’s advisory board, helping bring debate to Twin Cities students. 


“I’ve always thought debate was a worthy cause,” says Vanya. “Debate was the most valuable thing by far that I did in high school. Even though I wasn’t one of the top debaters in the state most of the time, I still kept at it. I just felt like it was very intellectually challenging. I loved the other people who were involved in it, and I got to know a lot of kids from around the state outside my own high school.” 


Vanya always had a dream of being a lawyer, and debate helped make it true. It really helped me both to prepare for college and later for my career in the law, says Vanya. “I was always really interested in this job, but being in debate cemented my interest in being a lawyer.” 


Now, she supports the American Indian community through Hogen Adams, which handles Indian law for many clients throughout the Midwest, and continues to empower indigenous students by sponsoring the All Nations Indian Law Moot Court. She was named a Super Lawyer for the years of 2003 – 2004 and 2006 – 2020, demonstrating her reputation for legal excellence.


Vanya credits debate for boosting her momentum as a legal professional. Specifically, debate provided her a skillset that remains useful even today. “For being a lawyer, a couple aspects of debate are really helpful: public speaking, having to formulate arguments, and using logic. The thing that helped me the most from debate was learning how to organize my thoughts and arguments. That helped with writing papers in college, writing briefs and exams in law school, and general legal writing later on.”


As a parent of a graduating senior and former debater, Vanya sees the value of debate continue in today’s students. But she is concerned about the activity’s accessibility after COVID-19. “I was already concerned about how distance learning is impacting students who can’t afford good technology overall,” she says, “but once Nationals was online, that’s the first time I realized debate would be impacted for kids.” 


That’s what motivated Vanya to make a generous $1,000 gift to our Virtual Supply Drive. Her donation kickstarted our campaign that aims to bring quality headsets to every student in the MNUDL! That gift will provide headsets to more than 65 students. Vanya says: “This was an easy way for me to contribute. I really want to make sure that the pandemic doesn’t derail debate. It is such a valuable activity.” It’s easy to look to her life as proof of that.

Help Vanya equip all MNUDL competitors with the supplies they need to maximize debate’s impact. Make a gift today. 

Mes de la Herencia Hispana: Un siglo de logros de debate

Hispanic American Debater Collage from Various Fields

El 15 de septiembre al 15 de octubre marca el Mes de la Herencia Hispanoamericana, diseñado para “rendir homenaje a las generaciones de hispanoamericanos que han influido y enriquecido positivamente a nuestra nación y sociedad.”

La historia de nuestra actividad está llena de exalumnos increíbles cuyas contribuciones a nuestra nación y el mundo tuvieron efectos en cadena en muchos campos: las artes, el derecho, la política, los derechos laborales, la educación y STEM. Además de su pasión, inteligencia e impulso, estos activistas tienen más en común: hicieron historia en América Latina y son ex debatientes. Vea esta línea de tiempo de 100 años con solo algunos de los logros que estos grandes ex debatientes han logrado.

Traducción por Shelley Pacheco y Mariana Chavez (En ingles)

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Hispanic Heritage Month: A Century of Debater Achievements

Hispanic American Debater Collage from Various Fields

September 15th-October 15th marks Hispanic American Heritage Month, designed to “pay tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.” (HHM)

The history of our activity is filled with incredible alumni whose contributions to our nation and world had ripple effects in many fields: the arts, law, politics, labor rights, education, and STEM. Besides their passion, intelligence, and drive, these activists have more in common: they made Latino American history and they’re former debaters. Check out this 100-year timeline with just a few of the accomplishments these great former debaters have made.

(Spanish version of article, translated by Shelley Pacheco & Mariana Chavez / En español)

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