The Chicago Debate Commission is back. The CDC was founded in 1995 by urban debate pioneer and patron Betty Willhoite and the Community Renewal Society. It brought together a group of civic leaders – most notably its late chair, Justice Seymour Simon – who worked to bring competitive academic debate back to Chicago Public Schools. The original CDC succeeded in its mission; but after the passing of Justice Simon in 2006, it stopped meeting. Then in March, 2008, one of its members, Richard Sullivan, led an effort to reorganize, revitalize, and reconceive the CDC. Less than a year later, the new version of the CDC has already spearheaded a season of very substantial growth and some valuable and well-received new programs for the Chicago Debate League.
“The CDC intends to be a supportive partner to Chicago Public Schools in the administration and development of the Chicago Debate League, a partner that makes a difference for less-privileged youth in Chicago ,” declares CDC Chair Richard Sullivan. The Chicago Debate League is in its 12th season, and is institutionalized and owned by Chicago Public Schools, within the CPS Office of High Schools and High School Programs. It is one of the flagship leaders in the 25-city Urban Debate Network. Other top-performing Urban Debate Leagues, though, have a robust private partner to the public school district. That is what the new CDC intends to become.
“Chicago Public Schools will continue to provide school-site funding for CDL debate programs, but the CDC can add significant value to the CDL, taking it from an already very high level to a new peak in its service of the public school students of our city,” says CDC Executive Director Les Lynn. one of the original founders of the CDL.
The CDC has already begun to make a real difference. Corporate partnerships with, for example, Mayer Brown LLP, and foundation grants from the Chicago Community Trust and the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation all have enhanced the CDL this school year. Five charter high schools are subsidized by CDC funding; the CDC has helped fund and administer an additional Varsity Invitational hosted by Mayer Brown and a public debate competition; and the CDC is making National Circuit competition possible for dozens of the most competitive CDL debaters. But perhaps most importantly the CDC is providing the additional staffing support necessary for the CDL’s growth this season, after four years of stagnancy, of about 30%.
The Chicago Debate Commission 2.0 is positioned to build on the successful work of its predecessor and to function as a supportive partner to Chicago Public Schools. All for one reason: to help improve the lives of less-privileged young people through the powerful mechanism of competitive academic debate.