MNUDL Students Crush Goals, Connect with Urban Debaters at the Capitol

42 urban debate teams gathered from across the nation at Georgetown University in Washington, DC for the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues Championship Tournament this weekend. The Minnesota Urban Debate League was represented well by one St. Paul and one Minneapolis team! Read on to learn our exciting results!

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Expect Exciting Immigration Conversations at the 2019 Mayors Challenge

In this year’s Mayors Challenge, Minneapolis and St. Paul debaters will join forces to debate immigration reform. Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis and Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul, along with representatives from our sponsors, will choose the winning team in front of an audience of education supporters.

Last year’s Mayors Challenge, hosted by KARE-11’s Jana Shortal, was an electric exchange about funding career and technical education. On the affirmative side, advocating for expanding career technical education funding, were Lily Endo of Washburn High School and Mason Eischens of Highland Park Senior High School. Areonna Dean of Central High School and B Phi of South High School negated the resolution, arguing against Lily & Mason.

Photo of Jana Shortal, Melvin Carter, and Jacob Frey with MNUDL Debaters.

The judges were impressed by our Mason, Areonna, B, and Lily’s great performance: 

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter: “I was glad that I don’t have to participate in tough debates like these, because that was intense. That was really incredible. The level of research that you all clearly do, the ability to take fact and logic and research and apply it back and forth – developing that is so necessary.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey: “You have mastered as skill that has largely been lost in American society, which is to debate respectfully.”

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius: “I can’t think of a more worthy opportunity for students to be able to learn, craft a point, have good arguments on both sides, listen effectively, or come to some solution. I think it’s incredible students can do that in school.”

John Marshall, Xcel Energy: “Kudos to all four students. We’re all going to leave this morning profoundly impacted by the research and passion you put into these debates.”

At the event, we also presented our first-ever Champions of Change Award to Senator Ilhan Omar and The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. The award is designed to recognize individuals and organizations who are catalysts for change in our community.

Ilhan Omar serves as a role model to many of us through her fearless and authentic leadership and particularly for her amplification of youth voice and support of strong education systems. We also recognized The Women’s Foundation for their advancement of systems change in our community and investment in young people.

Senator Ilhan Omar accepted her award with a reflection on what debate means: “Debate is such an important and overlooked skill. It’s proven to raise young people’s confidence and self esteem. It’s certainly done that for me. Debate has influenced many of history’s greatest orators and leaders, and I’m excited to see the students in our program become today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. Because of my love for this program, it’s truly an honor and humbling experience to accept this award. The Minnesota Urban Debate League has been instrumental in my life and now in my daughter’s life.”

Attending the Mayor’s Challenge is an opportunity to greet the mayors, network with corporate and organizational leaders who advocate for education, and meet our amazing students. We hope to see you there!

Be part of the 2019 Mayors Challenge! Contact Amy Cram Helwich at to learn more about how you can be part of this year’s event through our sponsorship opportunities.

Register to reserve a table or your own ticket here: 

Former MDAW Camper Returns With Unexpected Gift

    St. Olaf's parliamentary debate team membersSt. Olaf’s parliamentary debate team made a generous and unexpected donation.

College students often step up for MNUDL, but St. Olaf parliamentary debaters went the extra mile.

6 years ago, Matthew Erickson attended MDAW, our policy debate summer camp, as a freshman in high school. He’s gone on to graduate from Eagan High School and attend St. Olaf College, where he is president of the parliamentary debate team. We didn’t expect to see Matthew back at MDAW this year, much less with a generous gift!

St. Olaf’s parliamentary debate team members generously raised $2,000 for our programming, surprising us with an amazing gift to start off the next season on the right foot! That $2,000 gift could cover a range of our programming needs next year, including but not limited to:

  • One stipend for a high school debate coach ($2,000 each).
  • 2 high school students to attend 2-week-long policy camp. ($1,000 each)
  • Stipends for 4 high school students to coach middle school teams. ($500 each)

Matthew joined us this week to judge an evening practice debate at MDAW. Learn more about what inspired the St. Olaf team’s generosity in our interview with him:

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What’s Not Debatable – the Humanity of Immigrants and Refugees

An 8-year-old immigrant child cries as she talks about being separated from her father during a family separation protest.
Image credit to Ross D. Franklin of the Associated Press.

As national immigration policy horrifies us, our students debate immigration with respect and dignity

This summer the MN Urban Debate League will host over 100 middle and high school students at Augsburg University to learn about the 2018-19 school year debate topic – Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reduce its restrictions on legal immigration to the United States.

Students will dig into this complicated question – to examine everything from opening the border completely, to re-evaluating H1B visas, to DACA. They will debate both sides of the resolution, as they critically examine the evidence – questioning their instructors, their camp teammates, and their own opinions on the topic.

What they won’t debate is the full humanity, inherent dignity, and worth of the people who wish to come to the United States – whether that is through the asylum process, existing legal immigration pathways, or those whose status is undocumented.

The MN Urban Debate League believes that each of the more than 800 children who are in our program – whether they were born here, or across the globe, are amazing. Our students are bright, talented, and looking for the opportunity to learn and grow. We will affirm their worth, and support them as they seek their own truth through inquiry and research. We will work together to build an educational community that values all students, so that our children will know that while we discuss policy issues, this does not mean that their value as people within our community is up for debate.

The current presidential administration’s approach to immigration reform, particularly its policy to separate children at the border from their parents is unconscionably cruel and inhumane. It has been declared such by multiple faith leaders, legal scholars, and leaders from both political parties. We know based on the research of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that this trauma will be incredibly difficult for children to recover from – and will impact their education, health, and forever future. This is particularly true for children younger than three, whose brains are still developing. Horrifyingly, the AP is reporting that three “tender age shelters” for children younger than five, are being used; there is also a plan to build a fourth.

It is absolutely possible to have a full and rigorous debate about immigration reform, and to do so without bigoted rhetoric. I know this is true, because I am watching 65 middle school students do it this week.  Let’s follow our students’ lead and demand more of all our civic leaders. We are hearing early news reports that it is possible, family separation may be discontinued. Until it is clear that a humane solution is reached, please keep calling your federal representatives – house and senate – and make your voice heard.

–Amy, Executive Director

Celebrating Our Superstars At ‘The Somali Oscars’

The Somali Debate Award Ceremony of 2018

“This is like the Somali Oscars!” Clara Barton student, Fowsiya, said breathlessly at our Somali Debate Initiative Championship.

Our event may not be broadcast to millions, but the energy and excitement it generates is even greater for our students! At the championship, we present students with both competitive awards as well as character awards. Although we recognize competitive success at each tournament, we know that other forms of success must not be overlooked. The Somali Student of the Year awards recognizes students who demonstrate leadership, character, and growth over the debate season. Read on to learn more about our “Oscar-nominated” students, who embody the best of debate.

Read more to see why Coach Madar Mohamed from Anne Sullivan Communication Center says: “Debaters are the best students I know.”

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National Award Recognizes Our Mission In Action

MNUDL Nonprofit Award Recipient
Amy Cram Helwich and Rebecca Froehlich receive their award from representatives from NonProfit Hub and myRollCall.

Spanish Debate League earns national nonprofit award for showing our mission of empowerment in action.

We are pleased to announce that our Spanish Debate League programming earned the Cause The Change Award in spring 2018.

The annual Cause the Change Award recognizes a successful campaign by a nonprofit which has “made a significant impact on their community by living out their mission”. The award panel, which chose from a range of nonprofit entries across the nation, selected the Spanish Debate League for its phenomenal 2017 growth and positive affirmation of Latinx students’ identities.

MNUDL was awarded a $2,500 check, a trophy, and two tickets to the national nonprofit conference, Cause Camp. Nonprofits in attendance included Charity Navigator, The Wounded Warrior Project, The Salvation Army, National Breast Cancer Foundation, the Philadelphia Eagles Charitable Foundation, and many more. Cause Camp was an inspiring and informative experience. Our representatives learned from nationally-recognized nonprofit leaders like keynote speaker Vu Le of Nonprofit AF, Lori Jacobwith of Ignited Fundraising, Paul Reynolds of The Reynolds Center for Learning and Creativity, and others!

This award and last year’s programming success would not be possible without our Spanish debate coaches, volunteers, and community leaders. We’re grateful to NonprofitHub and myRollCall for recognizing their contributions with the award.


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Spanish Debate is Springboard for Augsburg Student

A photo of Daniel Degollado flanked by two of his former teachers.
Former Spanish Debate student, Daniel Degollado, reminisced about achieving his goals with his former coach while volunteering.

At the end of each Spanish debate tournament, Daniel Degollado prompts students with “tambores” – “drumroll, please” – and gets them excited to receive medals and trophies. As a former debater at Highland Park Senior High School, Daniel knows just how much debate awards – and Spanish immersion – mean to students. Daniel was part of our first-ever Spanish debate cohort, and five years later, he’s returned to us to give back to current debaters. Daniel volunteers as the emcee for our Spanish debate tournaments, increasing the level of immersion by helping us run the entire event, including the rounds, judging, and awards in Spanish.

Daniel was reunited with his former coach, Paula Boe, who has continued to lead the team at Highland Park at our last tournament. Check out their conversation in the judges’ lounge!

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To Students Fighting for Safe Schools: Thank You

Students march for safe schools
Minneapolis students march for safe schools. Photo credit to Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News

We are horrified by the tragedy at Parkland and offer our deepest condolences. As educators, it is devastating to see promising lives lost and surviving students afraid to set foot in school. But even among the tragedy, we are given hope by students lifting their voices to make their schools a safe environment.

The Parkland students are joining a storied history of youth taking action and reclaiming their power in school, from The Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963, to the Little Rock 9, to the Chicano Student Walkout (1968). With the anniversary of Columbine approaching, we are seeing students establish their own place in history by refusing to accept gun violence in schools.

Emma Gonzalez, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior, recently gave an emboldened speech confronting adults in power on what she sees as their inability to address the type of tragedy that Parkland is reeling from. In this speech, which can be read in full here, Emma says:

“…They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”

We’re proud that Twin Cities students are showing solidarity with students across the nation calling for safe schools. This has included student activism around removal of SROs in schools as well as being outspoken about a range of issues from processing the death of Philando Castile to changing the names of their schools to reflect different legacies and more voices.

Just yesterday, Minneapolis students walked out of school in protest. One of Washburn High School’s debaters, Isabel Kleckner, helped organize her fellow students to march. MPR News quotes Isabel, stating: “It’s completely unreasonable that civilians should have access to assault rifles where they can go into schools and continue to shoot students who are there trying to learn. It just keeps happening, and after Parkland, students really took this movement.” They were joined by South High School students, also represented by debater Isra Hirsi, as reported in Citypages. We’re proud of local students and others across their nation for their courage.

To the students fighting for their right to safe schools: Thank You.

You can show your support to the students fighting for safe schools by joining and promoting local and national student walkouts, including the March For Our Lives.

Tiana Bellamy Uplifts and Empowers

Sandy Bolton and Samia Abdalla stand next to Tiana Bellamy, who is holding the Community Coach of the Year plaque.
“She’s the balloon that lifts us up,” says junior varsity debater, Samia Abdalla (right)

Every year, the Minnesota Urban Debate League community honors coaches who go above and beyond for their students. MNUDL alum Tiana Bellamy exemplifies the commitment, kindness, and insight students deserve from a coach— and that’s why she was voted the 2017 Community Coach of the Year by her peers.

With Tiana’s guidance, Roosevelt High School debaters Sandy Bolton and Samia Abdalla won the junior varsity division of the 2017 Citywide Championship. Sandy and Samia worked hard to refine their critical case over the season, but credit Tiana for helping them develop their ideas using Chicana feminist scholarship. “A big part of our case is about empowering women of color in debate. We are existing and arguing, so it means a lot to us,” says Sandy. “Tiana really helped,” Samia adds. “This year, we get to argue what’s ours and debate for ourselves rather than others.”

Although Tiana’s primarily role is coaching the junior varsity debaters, she took on the responsibility of guiding Roosevelt’s younger students as well. “Tiana is a great coach. She’s always there for us when we need help. She helps out everyone,” says novice Fadha. “She comes to tournaments with us every time, asks us if we understand, and helps us out if we don’t understand,” agrees fellow novice Zubeda.

Read more to learn more about Tiana’s coaching perspective.

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Debaters Perceive Problems, Envision Solutions

Two young debaters, Tawfeeq and Mason, sit behind a laptop and prepare for their next speech.
Mason and Tawfeeq from Highland Park Senior High School crafted their cases based on schools in their neighborhood and beyond.

If you had all the power of the US Government, how would you change the education system?

That’s what our junior varsity and varsity debaters are researching, writing about, and debating this year. They have been inspired by schools in their neighborhood and beyond. MNUDL’s debaters are building cases around this policy resolution:

The United States Federal Government should amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to include funding and regulation of a universal, public pre-kindergarten education program in the United States.

The 2017 topic is offering students a chance to engage with their in-school education out of school time by identifying problems and creating new solutions. Maya from Washburn High School likes that this year’s topic helps her connect with students from other schools. “It’s interesting because we relate to it. We’re all in school. You get to meet people from other schools and connect with them and make bonds through conversations about education. That extends out, and you can have conversations about other things.”

Read on to learn more about how students would change the education system!

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