CDL Alumni Spotlight: LaTonya Starks

I began my debate career as a sophomore while attending Morgan Park High School. It was the first year of the Chicago Debate League and I was overwhelmed by the joy I felt in being a part of something larger than myself. With my team, I traveled throughout the state and the country, becoming the first CDL team to participate in the National Forensics League’s National Championship. I then went on to win the top speaker prize at the Chicago Debate League’s 2000 City Championship Tournament.

It was not simply awards and accolades that kept me coming back tournament after tournament. The exposure the CDL offered to a world I would not have encountered without debate makes the CDL near and dear to my heart. The Chicago Debate League’s constant pursuit of a familial atmosphere and a competitive spirit, is remarkable. Even more remarkable were the life-changing moments the CDL provided. Instead of spending our free time on the street, getting into trouble, CDL debaters were taken to college campuses and educated by the top debate practitioners in the nation.

My time with CDL propelled me forward. Upon graduation from Morgan Park, I received a scholarship to debate at Northwestern University, where I was the first African-American woman to debate for four years. I went on to become a Cross-Examination Debate Association All-American. Upon graduation, I became an Assistant Director of Debate at Northwestern, where I coached a team to a National Debate Tournament championship. I also served as Coordinator of the Chicago Debate League, coaching to a championship at the Fuqua Nationals. In my current position as the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Debate League, I attempt to give back to young students who remind me so much of myself when I first began my Urban Debate journey.