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Whether it’s through his artistry on-screen or his philanthropic efforts, award-winning actor Denzel Washington has used his platform to evoke transformative change in the lives of others. One of the social good initiatives he’s leading with his family is centered on empowering HBCU students. Wiley College recently announced its debate team received a $100,000 endowment from the Denzel Washington Family Foundation.

The generous gift is part of a larger $1 million commitment that the Washington family made in 2007 to coincide with the release of the film The Great Debaters. The movie chronicles the journey of the Texas-based institution’s debate team which was founded by poet and educator Melvin B. Tolson during the 1930s. In the film, the students went on to become the first Black debate team to compete against the nation’s most prestigious schools and broke racial barriers within the space. The team was dismantled in 1947 after Tolson’s departure from Wiley College.

In an effort to revive the debate team and empower generations of students to continue the rich legacy started by Tolson and the scholars he coached, the Denzel Washington Family Foundation pledged to donate $1 million over the span of a decade. Washington says he hopes the revival of the team will inspire students at Wiley College to tap into the power of their brilliance. “Supporting the next generation of brilliant minds in the art of debate at Wiley College will open so many doors of opportunity for these students during college, career and beyond,” he said in a statement. “We are honored to continue supporting the best and the brightest in the land and look forward to The Great Debaters continuing to do what they do best: win.” Dr. Herman J. Felton, who serves as president of Wiley College, says the school is thankful for the foundation’s generosity and the funding “further amplifies the benefits of becoming a Wiley debate scholar.” The funds have been used for the creation of scholarships.

There is a need for more debate teams at historically Black colleges and universities. According to HBCU Pre-Law, only 10 HBCUs have them.


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