The Norman Transcript

October 26, 2011

Urban experiences give debaters unique insight

By James S. Tyree
The Norman Transcript

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.

Lee learned quickly that there is more to competitive debate than he realized.

“I thought I could just show up and say whatever; I didn’t know there was so much research involved,” he said. “But this has improved my articulation skills and ability to express myself, and my understanding of what other people say.

“If I hear something, I can get past the fluff,” Lee explained. “When politicians or a professor talk, I can hear what they’re actually saying and I say, ‘Hey, I got you!’”

Campbell said he’s also grown as a thinker and speaker from his OU debate experience, saying it’s funny to hear himself debating as a teenager on tape.

“The way I think in general hasn’t changed, but the skill I use when I debate has changed a lot,” he said.

Massey said few college debate teams have members from black urban areas, but their skills and perspectives add a new dimension to an OU squad that already has competed in an unconventional style.

Despite their similarities, Baker, Campbell and Lee have debate styles that couldn’t be more different.

“D’s style is very laid-back, sometimes too laid-back,” Lee said of Baker. “Now think of the total opposite and that’s how Rashid debates — very hyped and expressive.”

Massey agreed, saying Baker and Campbell have contrasting styles is complimentary for their two-person team. Campbell has “more energy than any style you can ever have in debate,” Massey said.

“But you need to debate differently, in different styles, and with these guys, they take different style to a whole new level.”

Baker also differs from most OU teammates in that he is older. He is back at OU this year after a four-year hiatus. He returns with simple, if lofty, goals.

“We’re trying to win the National Debate Tournament, to be the first black team to win the national title,” he said.

James S. Tyree 366-3541 jtyree@norman-