As part of the celebrations and events held throughout Black History Month, Cheyney University students had the honor of participating in The Great Debate, a forum for HBCU students to discuss current issues and social problems from the perspectives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, and a synthesis of the points of view of the two African American political leaders.
Nine students; three each from Cheyney, Prairie Valley A&M, and Tennessee State University presented their arguments during the Feb. 2 virtual event around the following public policy debate: Black Colleges Need Reparations and Africana Studies Departments to Overcome Decades of Arrested Development and Cultural Alienation. Judges declared Cheyney as the runner up with 851 points, slightly behind the winner Tennessee State with 862 points.
Prairie Valley students Ari King, Maia McFarland, and Kennedy Sauls argued the theme from the point of view of Dr. King. Tennessee State students argued from the perspective of Malcolm X and the Cheyney students Amir Curry, Adam Hansen and Harold Mitchell presented the argument from the synthesis perspective.
Amir Curry is a junior and distinguished member of Cheyney University’s Honors Academy. He is a passionate orator and public speaker. Adam Hansen, a computer science and biology major in his second year of undergraduate studies admits he likes to argue and thinks there are many aspects of growth that are associated with a comparison and clashing of ideas.
Harold Mitchell is a senior and business management major and believes that life is a great journey full of memorable experiences. He considers it like a prism with many different colors and lights depending on the angle of the person’s point of view.
Each participant had five minutes to state their position.
In giving the synthesis point of view, Cheyney student Harold Mitchell came right to the point.
“Absolutely we need reparations,” he said. “King and Malcolm had a shared idea of revolution. Reparations is a narrow window, and we need control of the resources. We need to control the platform, otherwise, wealth is circulating back to where it came from. Malcolm believed wealth is not just an African American problem, it is an international problem. Education is critical.”
In his rebuttal synthesis remarks Adam Hansen argued that reparations and increased HBCU funding were not something either Malcolm X or Dr. King would have advocated for in the quest to remove racism and inequality in America.
“I would say both Malcolm X and MLK would reject this. Seeing that the trend of the past decades in America, it is said that HBCU’s receive less funding that the average college. Where implicit bias and sociological dynamics have pushed back the progress of HBCU’s,” Hansen said. “This is a systemic problem that reparations will not fix. MLK recognized this, evidenced by his continued protesting even after several racist laws were repealed. In response to the need for an Africana department, this would only slow down the decay we have already seen.”
In the closing segment of the debate Amir Curry said in his synthesis argument that regarding the systemic disinvestment of HBCU’s, it must be understood that the racial order is bound to the economic order of exploitation.
“In his final book Where Do We Go From Here, Dr. King wrote ‘Racism in America is no mere phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries,” Curry said. “Racism and its perennial ally, economic exploitation provide the key to understanding most of the complications of this generation. What King is expressing is racism and capitalism work together. So, the question then becomes; how can the systems which have exploited us even begin to solve our problems?”
The Great Debate echoes traditional debates between African American leaders such as the Frederick Douglass and Henry H Garnet debates (1840’s), Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois debates (1890s-1910s), as well as the historical debates on Slavery such as the Abraham Lincoln and Steven Douglas debates of 1858.
In addition, the debaters for Prairie Valley and Tennessee State made several compelling arguments throughout the event.
Prairie Valley student Kennedy Sauls gave the definitions of reparations, Africana studies departments, and the need to overcome.
She stated that reparations would bring HBCU’s up to the levels of predominantly white institutions, “HBCU’s have experienced steep declines in federal funding. We should bring HBCU’s up to predominantly white institutions funding expectations which would guarantee equity of funding. MLK would have supported reparations for all who have been discriminated against and suffered trauma.”
Maya McClary of Tennessee State gave an emotional argument of the theme from the perspective of Malcolm X. “In order to overcome alienation, we must make Africana studies essential in historically Black colleges. It restores Black culture; it builds Black economic foundation and restores human rights. We need more African history books written by Black authors. Black colleges should also teach financial literacy courses to teach us how to better manage our money.”
A recording of The Great Debate is available here.