Debate Spaces

Bridging Communities through Dialogue

Photo of Zack

Written by

Eligibility: Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Date Started

January / 21 / 2018

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

The first seeds of Debate Spaces began in 2016, when cofounder Matt Summers was on a Fulbright in South Africa. He saw the extreme inequality and de facto racial segregation in Stellenbosch, and worked to start a program bringing together youth from throughout the community. The program had great success, and we decided to revamp the program and bring it to the United States. In Boston, there is also significant disparity and economic segregation, and we saw an opportunity to make an impact.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

As written above, economic segregation is substantial throughout the country, but particularly in Boston. The net worth of individuals is also racially disproportionate throughout the community. A Boston Globe article sheds light:

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our program teaches the core skills of debate that instill and inspire confidence and advocacy in youth, while covering topics that directly affect each respective community. By mentoring economically disadvantaged students in existing debate programs, we provide free resources to ensure that students are able to achieve their maximum potential. By organizing weekend forums that include students from throughout the Greater Boston community, we make sure that youth are connected across divided community by engaging them in dialogue about issues that they can all understand.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

When a student gets involved with Debate Spaces, they are able to meet students from throughout the Boston community. For instance, a student from a suburb - say William Diamond Middle School in Lexington - is able to meet students from middle schools in the Boston Public Schools, such as Timilty Middle School. By engaging in an issue relevant to both of them - such as gun violence in schools - they are able to learn more about the ways in which that issue affects each of their micro-communities, and the community of Boston writ large.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Debate Spaces activates and connects youth in suburban and city settings and builds the skills they need to address major global problems. Rather than telling students what problems they need to solve, we imbue them with self-confidence and provide an environment where they hone their advocacy skills and make the connections with one another that will allow them to imagine new solutions and effectively advocate for them.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We have been in operation for one semester, and mentored at over five schools with around 40 students. We led a weekend forum that brought students from over five schools (different than the ones above) together to engage in dialogue.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Debate Spaces seeks to amplify programming in the Greater Boston area and will expand into other locations beginning with Chicago and Durham. Building strong central start-up locations allows us to identify supportive school and community partners, building sustainable programs.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

We have numerous volunteers, but no sponsorships or financial resources outside of our own personal contributions. With money, we would be able to pay for students' travel to our forums, and provide snacks for students.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

We are seeking to expand to other cities beyond Boston, Chicago, and Durham. Changemakers experienced in debate or public speaking could bring the program to their own cities, and coordinate to plan a national forum for students to engage across the country.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 16.7%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 16.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 50%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 16.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 16.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 16.7%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 50%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 16.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

Attachments (1)

Debate Spaces Stellenbosch.jpg

Debate Spaces began in Stellenbosch, South Africa, the most unequal city in one of the most unequal countries in the world according to the Gini index. Debate Spaces brought together youth from some of the most affluent and some of the most impoverished families in the city, using debate as a mechanism for creating conversations about issues pertinent to their greater community.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ariyan Miller

Hey There Fellow Changemaker,

Congrats on moving to the next phase. I wishing you the best of luck ! & I am sending love and light to all the positive things that you do.

Photo of Sravya Alla

This Debate Space program is an interesting approach to bringing people together. This reminds me of a program called the Urban Debate League, which happens in many American cities. I am intrigued by the unique aspect of your program where you are bringing disadvantaged voices to mash with privileged voices; this seems like an interesting juxtaposition of experiences.

Photo of Zack

Hi Sravya, thanks for commenting! Various urban and city debate leagues are fantastic for providing students with opportunities to learn and develop debating and advocacy skills. Debate Spaces works with some of these leagues (like the Boston Debate League), assisting them with their events and connecting these students with other students in their local communities who debate but aren't a part of these leagues. Debate Spaces also focuses its topics on issues that directly affect students, while debate leagues will typically use nationally chosen debate topics to focus their research.

Photo of Leonardo Claure

This is a great idea for allowing people from all backgrounds to develop their ability to discuss and debate topics that affect our communities. Just out of curiosity, do you choose the topics that are chosen to be debated based on each communities problems or is a more general discussion?

Photo of Zack

Hi Leonardo, thanks for reaching out! We have general discussions about socioeconomic status, race, etc. - but we tailor these discussions to specific issues facing communities in regional areas. For instance, in Boston we discuss the city's severe economic inequality and ways that race is tied (whites in Boston have a median net worth of over $245,000, while African-Americans in Boston have a median net worth of $8). These specifics are important to make the information stick with students, as it pertains to their local communities.

Photo of Elizabeth Hooper

I love the idea of debate as a way to expand young peoples minds. I do think that it seems very early in the process to expand to other cities, I know you mentioned personal donations, but what is truly the plan to stay sustainable with so much growth so quickly after inception?

Photo of Zack

Hi Elizabeth, that's a great question! From a financial standpoint, we take significant steps to keep costs low. For instance, we make agreements with institutions to use their space for reduced costs or for free when we are hosting events. We currently have all mentors volunteer their time. From a logistics standpoint, we are recruiting students from other schools who are familiar with the concept and training them extensively to prepare them for the fall.

Photo of Tiana

Debating is great way to expand the mine and foster critical thinking, giving young people the opportunity do so is a great idea!

Photo of Zack

Thank you! We're excited to keep working on this project! Critical thinking is so important, especially in an increasingly competitive work environment.

Photo of Sumari Barnes

I love this idea and believe that your desire to bring together youth of differing backgrounds is much needed. It is very hard to learn about each other and understand differences when there is no interaction. Debate also gives people confidence and better public speaking skills.

Photo of Zack

Thank you so much! I definitely agree; one of the great parts about this program is that it also invites discussion on issues that affect youth from different communities in the same way - which builds avenues of solidarity.