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December Scrimmage Tournament @ PS/MS 129

    Thank you to John H. Finley Campus School, PS/MS 129M for hosting our first Harlem Scrimmage of the year and congratulations for starting a debate program! Thank you to all attendees and judges for our first scrimmage! Click here for Scrimmage Photo... read more

12/11 Fall Elementary Tournament Results @ PS 161

    First elementary school tournament of the year! Thank you to Mr. Beattie and PS 161 for hosting and making this tournament possible! The debate topic for the day was “This House would ban zoos.” Inspirational day to see elementary students... read more

2016 Young Urban Hero

Passionate about social justice, 10th grader Feiry Guiaba is a founding member of the debate team at the High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice. Growing up in West Harlem, he began debating with the New York City Urban Debate League (NYCUDL) in 7th grade,... read more

Congratulations to Sekou Cisse!

Congratulations to Success Academy High School Debater Sekou Cisse. Sekou reached the final rounds of the Byram High School Debate Invitational yesterday and the Round Robin! Sekou was Top Speaker of the Round Robin (only top teams are invited), UNDEFEATED in... read more

Harlem Debate Coach Featured in the Daily News!

Congratulations to Success Academy Harlem East math teacher, debate coach, & 2016 Excellence Award winner, Jun Yoon. As the Harlem East debate coach, he led scholars to first place in NYCUDL’s fourth tournament of 2016, a tie for second place at the NYCUDL... read more

Girls Debate Tournament this Friday!

On June 3rd, the NYCUDL and BALI host the Spring Girls Debate League Tournament at the Silberman Graduate School. This tournament features public forum and parliamentary debate for both middle school and high school. Also joining us for the morning panel of lawyers on... read more

Harlem Borough Championships Tournament Results!

Our final community Championships was this weekend at PS 161 in Harlem!  The inaugural year of the Harlem Championships to celebrate the revival of scholastic debate in Harlem. Thank you to PS 161 and Coach Tyler Beattie for hosting Thank yoou for all the schools... read more
Harlem After School Debate League Series Kicks Off!

Harlem After School Debate League Series Kicks Off!

Attention all schools in Harlem! The Harlem Debate League kicks off the first after school tournament series on February 24th with a Demo Debate at A. Philip Randolph Campus HS!  The tournament is a series of debate matches over the next several months on Thursdays... read more




“Standing up there, the faces looking up at me, the things in my head coming out of my mouth, while my brain searched for the next best thing to follow what I was saying, and if I could sway them to my side by handling it right, then I had won the debate–once my feet got wet, I was gone on debating.” – Malcolm X, Harlem Resident, Civil Rights Leader, recounting his years on the Debate Team at the Norfolk Prison Colony.

Our History

In 2011 the problem was there was not a single competitive debate team in Harlem.  This was a particular educational travesty because Harlem has an incredible rich history of famous orators and soapbox preachers, advocacy, and civil rights leaders.  Our mission is that every school in Harlem should have a debate team and every single student should have access to the best debate education opportunities.  One of the single greatest investments that Harlem can make is to encourage every child to be a Great Debater – passionate in learning the world around them, passionate in reading, writing and speaking about the world around them, and passionate to be the leaders of change to make the world around them a better place.  As President Obama stated, “Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.” We need debate teams in every single school in Harlem.  Thanks to an incredible partnership with the Double Discovery Center at Columbia University where the Harlem Debate League is headquartered, support from the West Harlem Development Corporation, New York City Department of Education and the New York City Council our program is free for schools in Harlem and school by school, more students now have access to debate education opportunities.

Why Debate

“Competitive debate is one of the great equalizers of educational opportunity.  In a number of respects, competitive urban debate is uniquely suited to building what’s been called the ‘Four C’s’ of 21st century skills—critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. And to that list I might add a fifth ‘C’— for civic awareness and engagement.” – US Secretary of Education honoring our debaters in Washington DC.  Our debaters won 1st in the nation and visited the White House to meet the President.

Through independent peer-reviewed research we know that urban debate prepares students to succeed in school and in life.

90% of urban debaters graduate on time.

72% of urban debaters with the highest risk of dropping out graduate on time.

Each semester that a student debates, his/her grades will improve.

At graduation, the average GPA of an urban debater is 3.23, significantly above the college readiness benchmark.

Debaters are more likely to test as college ready.

After graduating from high school, 86% of urban debaters enroll in college.

Urban debaters are 80% more likely to graduate from college.

Urban debate prepares students for twenty-first century careers.

Our Accomplishments

Harlem is now home to some of the most successful middle school debate teams in the country. Students from the Harlem Success Academies routinely place at the top of every local, regional and national tournament including the national championships.  PS 161 leads middle schools citywide in elementary debate, middle school debate and competitive speech events.  Harlem debaters have been profiled in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, and television.

Interscholastic Debate Program

Our interscholastic debate program or after school debate program supports school based debate teams. We provide monthly tournaments, workshops, professional development, and any other support to start and sustain successful debate teams. We work with the following schools in Harlem: Democracy Prep Endurance Middle School, Global Neighborhood Secondary School, Harlem Success Academy West, Harlem Success Academy East, Harlem Success Academy North, Harlem Success Academy South, Hugo Newman School, JHS 143 Eleanor Roosevelt, PS 161, PS 007 Samuel Stern, Renaissance School of the Arts, Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change

Curricular Debate Programming

In partnership with the Middle School Quality Initiative we work with schools to implement debate across the curriculum in every subject area.  We work with the following schools in the borough: PS 007 Samuel Stern, Renaissance School of the Arts, Global Neighborhood Secondary School, Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, and JHS 143 Eleanor Roosevelt.

Harlem Debate Tournaments

Our core program are monthly Saturday tournaments.  We provide at least three rounds of debate competitions, workshops, breakfast, lunch and an awards ceremony for all students.  Additionally, the MSQI City Championships of the New York City Department of Education is hosted at Columbia University in Harlem each year.

Harlem Debate Club at the Double Discovery Center

During the school year we have weekly debate practices at the Double Discovery Center. Students can debate at all tournaments with their school debate team or as a debater with the Double Discovery Debate Team.  Students do need to register with Double Discovery first. 

Harlem Summer Debate Institute

Our debate program is year round. During the summer we offer a free summer debate institute for students.  Our Debate Institute offers a rigorous curriculum of public speaking, research, rhetoric, current events, and public policy. Mornings include lectures on debate skills and topics and afternoons are devoted to small lab groups to practice debate skills.  The debate institute culminates with a summer debate tournament.  We are honored that Columbia University and Teachers College in Harlem hosts the Harlem Summer Debate Institute each year.

Harlem Travel Debate Team

We also support travel scholarships for the top high school debaters. This allows students the opportunity to travel and compete at some of the top tournaments on the East Coast including Harvard University, Yale University, and other out of state and national tournaments.

Harlem Outreach

We have a program director and outreach staff who visit schools to help train teachers who are new to debate and start and sustain successful debate programs.

New York City Urban Debate League Citywide Programs

All our programs throughout the city are available for all students.  We offer tournaments nearly every weekend, workshops and Debate Nights every month, citywide debate invitationals, summer debate institutes in each borough, the New York City Debate Championships, and other debate opportunities year round.



“The prizes aren’t just the trophies and the medals, but the knowledge that you will keep with you forever”-Amy Ovando, 8th grade, PS 161


“When I started debate I assumed I would lose. But after one year in debate,I’ve changed a lot. Debate makes me feel alive. I am not afraid to raise my hand in class. I’m an open person. Having debate in my life means havingfreedom. Debate has taught me that sometimes you can rise above. And it brings me hope.”-Feiry Guaba, 7th grade, PS 161


“When my mom came and saw a debate, she was so excited to see me doing something productive, bonding with other kids and making friends, being serious but also having fun.” – Rajendra Singh, 7th grade, PS 161

“It’s weird, but if you are a good debater, people think that you shouldn’t be running in the hallway. I wonder whythey think that being a good debater means you would be less likely to run in the hallway? I guess they start to expect more of you.”-Herbert Espinal, 6th grade, PS 161



September: Season Kick Off Workshop (Harlem Success Academy West)

October: Harlem Debate League Tournament #1 (TBA)

November:Harlem Debate League Tournament #2 (PS 161)

December:Harlem Debate League Tournament #3 (TBA)

January: All City Fall Championships (Brooklyn Tech)

February:Harlem Debate League Tournament #4 (TBA)

March: Battle of the Boroughs Tournament (Bronx Science High School)

April: Harlem Debate Championships (TBA)

May: City Championships (Institute for Collaborative Education)

Summer: Harlem Summer Debate Institute (Columbia University)


Harlem Interscholastic Debate Schools

Democracy Prep Endurance Middle School 

Global Neighborhood Secondary School

Harlem Success Academy West

Harlem Success Academy East

Harlem Success Academy North

Harlem Success Academy South

Hugo Newman School 

JHS 143 Eleanor Roosevelt

PS 161

PS 007 Samuel Stern

Renaissance School of the Arts

Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change


Harlem MSQI Debate Schools

PS 007 Samuel Stern

Renaissance School of the Arts

Global Neighborhood Secondary School

Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change

JHS 143 Eleanor Roosevelt

Harlem Debate League in the News


Changing Their World with Words (9/18/2014)
Why Debate Matters for My Students (12/25/14)
New York Debate League Involves Middle School Students of All Backgrounds (11/17/14)
Teaching Young Students the Art of Argumentation (7/8/14)
“New York Great Debaters Swept New York State Championships” (3/26/13)
“No Debate About this Program’s Value” (11/9/12)
“Debate Team Energized by Cop Brutality” (4/11/2000)

Harlem Debate League on Television