Better Makers: Channeling the Power of Debate to Transform Students’ Futures

“To be able to disagree with respect is a skill that we’ve all lost,” Andrea Zopp told attendees at the seventh annual Make Room for Debate Luncheon, which celebrated 20 years of partnership between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Debate League and Chicago Debate Commission. Zopp, president and CEO of World Business Chicago, and recently named one of Make It Better’s Top Black Women of Impact, was honored at the event as the 2018 Champion of Debate. “Do not stay silent in the face of injustice,” Zopp urged the audience in her speech.

The Chicago Debate League 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, CDL 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, CDL has grown into the country’s largest and most successful urban debate league.

CDL Lunch : high school debate
Chicago Debate League Alum, Jocelyn Aguirre shares her transformation through debate at the annual luncheon.

Dr. Janice Jackson, CEO, Chicago Public Schools, and a long-time champion of debate, also spoke at the event. She stressed the importance of debate as an outlet as well as a tool for building leadership and communication skills. Jackson shared CDL’s goal for the next year: currently serving 75 schools and over 1,400 students, Chicago Debate League aims to serve 95 schools by 2019-20.

Make It Better was honored to be a media sponsor for the June 20 event. As a Make It Better Philanthropy Award winner, the Chicago Debate League shared the video produced as part of their award package to introduce the program. One of the student debaters featured in the video, Jocelyn Aguirre shared the impact debate has had on her journey thus far. The college-bound Thomas Kelly High School graduate and Posse Foundation scholar articulated her gratitude for the program and the personal growth that has come from her four years in debate. She owes her scholarship to the skills gained through CDL. Aguirre said she got the scholarship because of the way she presented herself.

“It grew my confidence,” she says. The power of introducing the sport of debate at this integral time in a young person’s life can impact personal growth and trigger the discovery of new talents and passions: “even just finding ourselves,” Aguirre says.

“Debate has opened my eyes to structural inequalities,” the CDL alum says. She champions debate’s ability to empower kids to create and act on change. This is why Aguirre says she fought so hard to save her school’s program.

Andrea Zopp : high school debate

Neil Araujo, CEO, iManage and event co-chair further emphasized the importance of supporting our future leaders. “Debaters are people I want on my team,” he said. “Debaters are not going to be replaced by robots.” This was a common theme throughout the program — that the invaluable skills one develops through the sport of debate are not only strong communication but also empathy, which has otherwise often been shown to be declining among students.

The event was hosted at the Fairmont Chicago and sponsored by: Good Starts Young, Allstate, Winston & Strawn LLP, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Performance Trust, Jenner & Block, iManage, Wintrust, Dr. Arin N. & Eric A. Reeves, BMO Harris Bank, GCM Grosvenor, Dentons, The Duchossois Group, Jones Day, Third Coast Underwriters, Vedder Price and more.

For more information on how to get involved with Chicago Debate Commission, visit: 


More from Make It Better: 


Emily Stone is Associate Editor at Make It Better. She earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work is published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.



  Who We Are       NFP Support       Magazine       Programs       Donate