Meet The First Black Women to Win a National Debate Conference
Decarlo Brown/Towson University

Ameena Ruffin, 21, and Korey Johnson, 19, went from passionately arguing current events on campus to becoming the first Black women ever to win a national debate championship. This past March, the Towson University students triumphed against 169 other teams in the country’s ultimate war of words, the Cross Examination Debate Association Championship.

ESSENCE talked to the astute competitors exclusively about their historic win and the legacy they hope to leave behind:

“I am excited about our win,” shared Ruffin. “Black women have never won a national championship, but this was the time. I felt that way going into the tournament.”

“Many smart African-American women debaters came before us, and to be representing all that hard work was special for me,” added Johnson who credited their win to one of those Black women in particular — the duo’s coach Amber Kelsie.

“She debated at Dartmouth and passed her survival strategies to us,” said Johnson.

According to Ruffin the number of Black debaters is growing, but in no way proportional to their population numbers on college campuses. “More women and people of color are able to add their experiences and change the way we deliberate about policies,” she said. “[Becasuse of that] I see the field expanding.”

“Personally I joined because being able to use my knowledge and say what’s on my mind is important for me. Debating makes me feel as though I have a voice,” said Johnson.

It’s their voice that these great debators hope to leave as their legacy. “We want people to use our debates and the research within them to orient themselves toward academic spaces. We want others to be able to use our scholarship to build upon their own,” said Ruffin.

Read more about Ruffin and Johnson in the August issue of ESSENCE Magazine.