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October 26, 2011

Urban experiences give debaters unique insight

NORMAN — Dominique Baker attended a high school in his native Kansas City that didn’t have much to brag about, save for one glimmering exception — a case with trophies won by the school’s debate team.

Baker said his first thought upon seeing the trophies was, “This raggedy school has a debate team?”

The intrigued teenager wound up joining the debate team at his high school and later at the University of Oklahoma.

Rashid Campbell of Oakland, Calif., and George Lee of Bryan, Texas, also are OU debate team members who come from inner-city neighborhoods. By this weekend, they will compete with their OU teammates in a tournament at Harvard University.

“Winning is the goal now, but the biggest trophy for me, even bigger than the National Debate Tournament, is having a significant effect on the people who live where I’m from,” Campbell said. “This is my training ground for doing something important for my people.”

Campbell said his grandmother was a Black Panther and that he grew up listening to, and participating in, spirited political debate.

In high school, he was part of the Bay Area Urban Debate League. It was where Blake Johnson, a former national champion debater for OU, discovered Campbell and, in turn, told OU debate coach Jackie Massey about him.

“I heard enough about him to know that he is a ball of fire,” Massey said of their first meeting. “I could see in his eyes that he really wanted to be a great debater.”

Baker and Campbell competed as a two-person team for OU at University of Kentucky and Georgia State University tournaments. Campbell was the 25th-ranked speaker out of about 300 at Georgia State; Baker was 17th at Kentucky.

Lee learned about the OU’s debate program from someone in one of his African American studies classes. A classmate who heard Lee speak eloquently in class suggested he meet Massey, so Lee checked it out.

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