Chimene Okere

July 11, 2018
Chimene Okere 
Lane Tech Debate 2007-2010

I always dreamt of being a superhero. I wore comic book t-shirts nearly every day to high school and I currently own several pairs of Captain America socks. Though I can’t build a suit of armor, fly, or don a suit of vibranium to defend Wakanda from evil, debate gave me a superpower that I use every day: a belief that I am worthy and capable of changing the world for the better.

Usually the people who decide whether to fund a school’s new textbooks or a city’s new prisons do not look like me. Moreover, the history textbooks that I read praised the accomplishments of an exclusive set of people who did not share my own experiences as a first-generation, black immigrant. Entering high school, I felt that maybe our country didn’t want people like me to try and change it.

However, participating in debate challenged my cynicism. Debate helped me analyze public policies as arguments that advance the values of a community. And through debate, I learned that if I researched enough and debated strategically, then I could challenge those values, change policies, and make our country a better place.

As an appointee in the Obama Administration, I applied many of the skills that I learned in policy debate towards advancing more inclusive and fair economic policies for small businesses. For two years, I worked at the U.S. Small Business Administration with experts in economic and business development. Though I had limited experience in this field, because of my ability to debate strategically, research, and speak persuasively, I was able to design policies that would make it easier for minority, women, veteran and other underrepresented small business owners to receive more financing.

Debate also introduced me to a community of people who work tirelessly to challenge the same cynicism that I felt before joining debate. I’ve asked my debate friends for career advice, a couch to crash on, and, at times, kind words of inspiration whenever that cynicism rears its head again. Through their words and examples, my debate friends instill and renew a personal sense of hope that the history of this country can and will be written by Chicagoans like me.

Hear from former debaters with unique perspectives on the impact debate has had on their lives and careers.
If you are interested in contributing, contact Willa Voss at for more information.