Posted by: Norma Adams-Wade, Special Contributor | DMN
A team of elementary-age debaters is setting a good example for adults of how to resolve differences peacefully.
In this modern age of high-level wrangling and sometimes physical confrontation over opposing opinions, these debaters from the Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Museum already have been noticed for their skill at artful argument.
This Dallas team of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders won both the “affirmative” (for) and “negative” (against) rounds at the elementary division of the Atlanta Urban Debate League Tournament on May 12 at Emory University in Atlanta. It was the Dallas team’s first time in the national competition.
“I think Mrs. Gilliam would have been very pleased,” said her daughter Connie Gilliam-Harris, who led efforts to transform her mother’s home into a museum — a project that was both a tribute to her late mother’s memorable community and education work and a pledge to continue that work.
The museum is a Dallas historic landmark at 3817 Wendelkin St. in South Dallas, where Gilliam lived for 35 years. Gilliam was an iconic advocate for civil rights and equal education for black children, and in the 1970s she became the Dallas school board’s first black female trustee. The museum houses her memorabilia, trains elementary-age debaters and provides a reading and learning lab for students and adults. The Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Collegiate Academy in Oak Cliff also is named in her honor.
“Our students really seemed to shine,” Gilliam-Harris said of the team’s trip to Atlanta. “And you could tell that they had been working very hard.”
Harris credited longtime Dallas educator Robert Edison for volunteering as the team’s coach and for grilling the students weekly for a month and a half.
Edison could not be reached for comment, but Harris said his years of experience teaching and mentoring young people paid off. Edison retired earlier this month after 44 years with Dallas public schools. He was debate coach at the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, was director of social studies for Dallas ISD, and he kept busy in classrooms and the community as an American history and black studies scholar, lecturer and curator of museums.
Dallas, Atlanta and Laurel, Miss., are the nation’s three cities that train elementary debaters, Gilliam-Harris said. Each of the Gilliam Museum’s three teams won at least one round at the Atlanta tournament, and one team won both the affirmative and negative faceoffs. The topic was “Americans should invest in locally produced goods rather than globally produced goods.”
Team members hailed from a variety of schools, including Charles Rice Elementary in South Dallas and Wilmer-Hutchins Elementary. The students included Jemarion Alexander, Ava Bolden, Brayden Brown, Sanaa Bryant, Edward Ja Ja Collins, Kaylee Green, Dallas Ross, Jaelyn Thomas and Skye Turner.
Third-, fourth and fifth-grade students from throughout the Dallas area are welcome to take part in the debate program, although the project targets youth in South Dallas.
“We will not turn anyone away,” Gilliam-Harris said.
The museum, which is open for tours year-round by appointment only, is planning its summer schedule of youth activities, she said. To learn more or to sponsor or volunteer for museum projects, call 469-458-0208 or visit www.kathlynjoygilliammuseum.org.
ABOUT TOWN: The Dallas chapter of the Texas Southern University National Alumni Association will honor several local alumni at its 16th annual Scholarship and Awards Luncheon at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, 2201 N. Stemmons Freeway. The alumni are civic volunteer Rhetta Bowers, engineer and minister Elwaine Johnson, trailblazing Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson and pharmacist Willard Stimpson. Dallas County Justice of the Peace Valencia Nash will speak. Admission is $60. To learn more, call 832-656-6355 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.