As part of our push for growing the nation’s largest and best urban debate league, the Chicago Debate Commission has expanded its dedicated, dynamic program staff.

Here’s some information about two new hires we’re excited about:

Marquis Ard, Program Officer for School Support
Marquis was born and raised in Chicago and has become one of the leading debate minds in the country. He began his coaching experience as an assistant coach in the CDL at Marshall High School and coached for the University of California Berkeley and Georgetown University. Marquis received college debate scholarships and was among the top debaters in the country during his college career, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma after finishing as top speaker at the CEDA national championship, a two-time first-round bid recipient recognizing the top 16 teams in the country attending the NDT national championship, and quarterfinals and 7th speaker at the NDT. He is known for his innovative work in critical debate, incorporating scholarship on anti-blackness.

April Garrett, Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator
April Garrett comes to the Chicago Debate Commission to head up our volunteer efforts with over 10 years of experience in volunteer administration. April has managed volunteers at various social service nonprofits including Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly, Sarah’s Circle and Howard Brown Health. She has presented at the Illinois Conference on Volunteer Administration and is an active member of the Association for Volunteer Administrators.

And we’re excited about the level of experience and enthusiasm from our returning program staff:

David Song, Director of Programs
David is now entering his 10th straight school year running urban debate programs, and 8th year with the Chicago Debate Commission, including a period of major growth doubling the size of the league in 2008-2013. David was the head policy debate coach for Oak Park and River Forest High School and Evanston Township High School prior to his work with urban debate and has served in statewide leadership positions in debate with the IHSA and the Illinois Speech and Theatre Association, as well as producing public debates featuring urban debate students for the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Aspen Ideas Festival, and the DuSable Museum of African-American History. David also served as the Program Director for the Minnesota Urban Debate League in a period of major growth for their program.

Christine Horst, Program Officer for Tournament Operations
Christine has been a part of the CDC in various roles since February 2013. She has been actively and continuously involved in the Chicago debate community for the past 12 years, first as a debater, then as a coach while she was getting a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from Northwestern University, and now as a member of the programming staff of the CDC. She has coached debate at numerous schools in Chicago including her alma mater, Lane Tech, and at St. Ignatius College Prep. In her personal life, she is passionate about the ethical treatment of animals and the social equality of women.

Mandela Okere, Program Officer for School Support
Mandela is switching roles after two successful years as our Volunteer Coordinator and is excited to be able to spend more time supporting our teachers and students with his experience as a coach and educator. Mandela joined the CDC in August 2015 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in Social and Cultural Foundations in Education. He is an alumnus of the Chicago Debate League, debating at Lane Tech High School for three years and coaching there for four. He has also coached with Alcott Elementary, McCutcheon Elementary, Amundsen High School and started the debate program at Leif Ericson Elementary. His academic work has been on connecting communities in service to youth. Mandela comes from a debate family; all three of his siblings debate in Chicago Public Schools.

Lucia Hernandez, Program Officer for School Support
Lucia Hernandez is an alumna of the Chicago Debate League. She debated three years for Kelly High School and coached at Kelly and at Kennedy High School before joining the CDC in July 2016. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelors in International and Chican/Latin@ Studies in 2013. Upon graduation, she served as an AmeriCorps member at Gads Hill Center and a facilitator for the Teen Outreach Program. She is excited to help build and sustain the debate programs throughout Chicago that are providing an opportunity for students to find their power and voice.

We believe this is the strongest team we’ve ever had supporting our wonderful students and teachers and we couldn’t have better people serving our schools in a period of major opportunity for the league.

In addition, we continue to receive great leadership and support for all of our league operations from Executive Director Edie Canter, Development Manager Willa Voss, Office Manager and Bookkeeper Diana Jackson, and Grant Writer and Tab Director extraordinaire (and current Von Steuben and former Whitney Young coach) Imran Makani.