Winning Essay by Nathan J., Westminster College

“I say that's a shame, but my opponent says today is not the day for whites and coloreds to go to the same college … Well, would you kindly tell me when that day is gonna come? Is it going to come tomorrow? Is it going to come next week? In a hundred years? Never? No, the time for justice, the time for freedom, and the time for equality is always, is always right now!” Once stated by Jurnee Smollett, who played a woman named Samantha Booke, who was loosely based on Henrietta Bell Wells. This scene, which is my favorite, is set at a debate competition in which the teams were arguing if they should desegregate college campuses. As a three-year high school debater and Model United Nations enthusiast, this movie The Great Debaters was a must see. However, what I thought would be just another drawn out, overdramatic biography became a large piece of inspiration.

In my own life, human rights activism and public discourse are two very important things that I have found passion in. Using my voice to make change. Using my voice to say something that transcends myself. Using my privileges in society to propel voices of minorities that have been too long forgotten. Which is exactly what we see throughout this outstanding story. As the first black female debater of Wiley College in Texas, Henrietta Bell Wells competed in the first interracial debates in the United States. In 1930 the team competed against the University of Michigan Law School. And won. They eventually in 1935 beat the national debate champions, the University of Southern California.

I think of this unusually discussed and hidden champion of desegregation as an inspiration, because she made change in ways that many think are impossible. In the 1930s, as the first black, female, college freshman to compete in debates about desegregation across the nation, led discussions and arguments about the dangers of a segregated society. It is using our voices, especially when we don’t think anyone is listening, that empowers ourselves, our communities, and the peers that we have. We gain insightful details and spread knowledge about progression. I found this story so inspirational, because deep down we aren’t that different.

In my personal life, I loved debating, I was unique on the debate team, and I always tried to fight against the injustices of society. To better understand and to learn to improve the world around us. Always believing, that even when people say that change in society is too unattainable, “the time for justice, the time for freedom, and the time for equality is always, is always right now!”


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