June 21, 2010

Celebrating 25 years of urban debate in Atlanta

Emory forensics director Melissa Wade (center) joins foundation chair Sharon Semmens (left), and artist Susan Pelham, at the urban debate benefit.

Emory debate alumni from across the country gathered with civic-minded supporters and prominent public leaders in Midtown May 27 for the inaugural benefit dinner of the Glenn Pelham Foundation, celebrating 25 years of urban debate in Atlanta.

The Foundation was created in 1987 to support a variety of debate initiatives, many of which had their roots at Emory, says Melissa Maxcy Wade, founder of the Atlanta Urban Debate League and executive director of forensics at Emory.

Wade says funds raised from the event will support student scholarships at Emory’s National Debate Institutes, held this summer on campus; Atlanta Urban Debate League (UDL), a middle school debate institute at Pace Academy; and fall programming for the Computer Assisted Debate Program, aimed at middle school students living in Atlanta Housing Authority communities.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, keynote speaker for the event, lauded the foundation, Atlanta Urban Debate League and Emory University for “finding a way to get in the way.”

The foundation, in turn, honored Lewis’ support of equal educational opportunity and Atlanta’s Urban Debate League by unveiling a portrait of him by artist Susan Pelham, widow of the late Glenn Pelham for whom the foundation is named. The portrait was then presented to Andrea Young, board member of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, to be added to the center’s extensive art exhibit once it opens.

“The Glenn Pelham Foundation is proud to honor Rep. Lewis in this way,” says Sharon Semmens, chair of the foundation’s board. She said the board knew of Lewis’ longstanding support of the establishment of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, and felt that donating the portrait is “a meaningful way to show our appreciation for his interest in and support of the foundation and the Atlanta Urban Debate League.”

“Debate changes lives because the conversation across the socioeconomic divide is so powerful,” said Wade at the event. “Our programs have received recognition from the U.S. Department of Justice as one of only eight programs recommended for national replication based on research of effectiveness as a powerful anti-gang development program. That says a lot.”

The dinner is set to become an annual event. Next year’s keynote speaker will be former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

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