Baltimore Students Make History as First Team of Black Women to Win Policy Debate at Chicago Tournament


June 13, 2024

They worked really hard for this!

Nevaeh Rita Sencion and Saidah Ervin are students at Baltimore City College High School and members of the school’s policy debate team, WMAR 2 News reports. Academic scholars who have both participated on debate teams since middle school, the duo recently traveled to Chicago to participate in the National Catholic Forensics League’s Grand National Tournament. There, they made history, becoming the first team of African American women to win the policy debate tournament at the competition. 

“We were both just like in shock. Like we knew we had it in us, but like being able to hear in front of a room that big and hearing all the cheers for us is a really, really big feeling,” Saidah told reporters. 


The students participated in a rigorous competition that took months of preparation. They participated in five two-hour debates daily for two consecutive days. While exhausting and a slight bit intimidating, the girls knew they were prepared and clenched the victory, defeating the top-ranked high school policy debate team in the country by just one vote. 

“I felt we started to believe in ourselves a little more and believe that we could make it to the end,” explained Rita.

The final topic came down to a pretty weighty subject that the two had been working on. They responded with a mix of speeches and even poetry. 


“United States federal government should substantially increase fiscal redistribution by providing a federal jobs guarantee, increasing social security, and/or providing a basic income. I think that’s the exact way it’s said in the policy,” Saidah recalled. 

A topic debated in the past few presidential elections, the Baltimore students were able to give the winning argument, crediting a long line of Black debaters who inspired them to take up this intellectually competitive sport. 

“We have the very unique responsibility – and almost indebtedness – to other Black debaters, other Black programs, the legacy of Black debate that’s come before us that has opened the doors for us to be able to continue to advocate for ourselves, for our communities. We talk not just about the policies but about being students in inner-city Baltimore and being Black women in this activity,” Rita told reporters. 


Graduating seniors, the girls began on the debate team as freshmen, meeting via Zoom at the height of the pandemic. Patrick Daniels, director of speech and debate at Baltimore City College (BCC), eventually opened up his home for a quarantine summer debate camp with the approval of his wife, an infectious disease doctor. 

Rita and Saidah are both graduating seniors, Rita heading to Wake Forest on a debate scholarship and Saidah off to the Univeristy of Kentucky as a leadership scholar in the fall. Still, Daniels says the two have left an indelible mark on the next class of City College debaters and will continue to serve as coaches and judges from college for BCC’s Speech and Debate Society. 

“It’s an amazing accomplishment. Not only for the city of Baltimore but for the debate community to offer change and have a vision for the future beyond the traditional vision of debate being an all-white, all-male activity,” said Daniels. 


Cover photo: Baltimore Students Make History as First Team of Black Women to Win Policy Debate at Chicago Tournament/(l to r) Baltimore City College High School Students Saidah Ervin & Nevaeh Rita Sencion pose with debate coaches at National Catholic Forensics League’s Grand National Tournament in Chicago, Illinois, during Memorial Day Weekend 2024/Photo Credit: Baltimore City Public Schools

5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join the BOTWC newsletter for the latest in news & culture!

By clicking Submit, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Newsletter Signup
Skip to content