Our Mission

The Shelby DEBATE Society’s mission is to provide SCS high and middle school students life-changing personal growth through competitive interscholastic debate.

Young people of all backgrounds deserve the dignity of a world-class education and fair opportunities to learn and succeed.  Unfortunately, urban youth attending public schools often lack quality opportunities to develop key literacy and life skills.  Each of the approximately 140,000 students in the Shelby County Schools (SCS) has unique talents, creativity, and potential.  Unfortunately, barriers and low expectations sometimes impede their aspirations to become successful, engaged adults.

Academic debate programs can be part of the solution.  Debate helps to close the achievement gap and to prepare low-income youth to achieve in school, succeed as adults, and ultimately strengthen their communities.  Now students in Shelby County have access to this life-changing activity through the Shelby DEBATE Society (SDS).

SDS is a partnership between SCS and a private group of civic and business leaders organized as the Shelby DEBATE Commission.  The Commission holds responsibility for strategic planning, volunteer and paid staff coordination, advocacy, supplemental fundraising, and deployment of university technical expertise, while SCS will be the institutional home of the SDS and will fund its core costs. The National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL), the national leadership organization of the urban debate movement, helped to form this partnership and will guide its success through proven expertise and strategy.

SDS launched originally as the Memphis Urban Debate League in March 2008 and now enjoys participation by students and teachers from 23 SCS high schools.  It aims to continue growing until every high school in the district participates.  With debate, Shelby County youth will have an opportunity to learn the literacy, critical thinking, and life skills they need to succeed in college and beyond.  Similar to their more advantaged private school counterparts, minority and low-income students all have the potential to lead successful, fulfilling lives.  The SDS will provide a life-changing activity for Shelby County youth to access that potential.

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