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Atlanta Teenagers Make History At Harvard Debate Competition

NOEL KING, HOST:

Jayla Jackson and Emani Stanton are high school students in Atlanta. On Wednesday, they became the first Black girl duo to win Harvard's international debate competition.

JAYLA: It was an all-female final round. So it was a step made for women as a whole and then especially for Black women.

KING: That's 15-year-old Jayla. And here's Emani. She's a rising senior.

EMANI: There really is no limit on what my people can do and what people like me can do when they are spaces where we can flourish and be our true, authentic selves.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The two girls are part of the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project, which trains inexperienced debaters who then go on to compete with other kids around the world - at stake, scholarships and also history.

JAYLA: If we did not win, it was going to be catastrophic. We were coming from a program who are three-time reigning champions at the Harvard debate competition. There was a lot on us.

MARTINEZ: But, Jayla says, they know a thing or two about how to make performance anxiety work for them.

JAYLA: Any time that I'm in a space where I'm nervous, I'm scared, I have anxiety, I praise it. I don't see it as a burden. I see it as a blessing.

KING: Their winning argument - that NATO should step up its defense commitments in the Baltic states.

JAYLA: We talked about how NATO influences climate change and energy diversity and also NATO's contribution to either increase or decrease sexual trafficking and violence.

EMANI: The power of our voice, the way that we explain things show that even just one person that is marginalized and affected, when we speak out about it, that is impactful, regardless if it's a million people or if it's one person.

KING: That is an appeal that pairs nicely with Emani's advice to other girls who follow them.

EMANI: Never miss your moment. If somebody asks a group of people a question, you need to be the first person to jump up and answer that question. And if you're the last person, you better give the best answer. Never miss your moment to express what you have inside of you and to show the world what you can do.

MARTINEZ: Maybe some insight into what makes a champion not just on the debate stage but also in life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SARAH, THE ILLSTRUMENTALIST'S "BILTMORE HILLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.