6th Annual Philanthropy Awards: Chicago Debates

6th Annual Philanthropy Awards: The Chicago Debate League

Most recently updated: December 2020


Chicago Debates was founded in 1995 to transform the lives of our city’s youth through the power of debate. Since partnering with Chicago Public Schools in 1997, Chicago Debates has been able to reach as many as 1,400 at-risk middle and high school students every year, offering them an incredible opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise be available in their communities. With a presence in 75 schools around the city, the organization has grown into the country’s largest and most successful urban debate league.

In Practice

In addition to its proven academic benefits including higher GPAs, ACT scores, graduation rates, and college admissions, debate teaches important life skills like critical thinking, writing, and communication and fosters personal growth. “Our students tell us that debate helps build their self-esteem,” says CEO Edie Canter, a former debater herself. “It allows them to have a place to exercise their voice and to be heard, and it makes them excited about learning.”

Today, the CD manages all programming aspects of debate in CPS schools, including recruiting students, training educators, and running after-school programs, competitions, and tournaments. Since its inception, CD has engaged a whopping 14,000 students in public policy issues, and many have gone on to become active civic participants after high school.

Philanthropy Awards: Chicago Debate League
Chicago Debates students prepare for a debate

A Chicago Debates Success Story

Dimarvin Puerto is an alum of Chicago Debates. Puerto graduated from Lane Tech and is currently debating at Wake Forest University. Of CD, he said, “Chicago Debates has made many leaders out of its program and it has made my future clearer on what I want to become. I want to be an immigration/humanitarian rights lawyer, and I can honestly say Chicago Debates was and is the foundation for this goal and dream.”

Current Executive Director Dr. Toinette Gunn said that CD is “really teaching students to research and use evidence to support their arguments…that requires some attention to what is happening in the world.” Dr. Gunn also stated, “[The students] are learning to disagree with civility, to have that civil discourse that we just don’t see a lot today. Debate really does push them to know how to have those tough conversations and respectfully disagree or debate the other side of a position.

By the Numbers

  • 14,000 students have been reached since its inception
  • Debaters are 3 times more likely to graduate from high school and 80 percent more likely to graduate from college
  • 78 schools have a chapter of Chicago Debates
  • 1,172 students served within our last year (2019)
  • 11 virtual debate tournaments held during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with over 700 students participating

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