Last updated: June 8th, 2022. Brandon Stanton, creator of Humans of New York, published a remarkable story on May 9th, 2022 told by a man named Jonathan Conyers. On the platform, Conyers described how he grew up in difficult circumstances and found refuge on the debate crew at a high school in New York City, led by an inspiring educator named K.M. DiColandrea (who goes by DiCo).
Following the publication of Conyers’ story, Brandon Stanton organized a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe that raised $1 million in just over 24 hours for the Brooklyn Debate League, hitting the target on May 10th, 2022. UPDATE: As of June 8th, 2022, the campaign has raised more than $1.3 million total.
What is the Brooklyn Debate League?
The Brooklyn Debate League was founded by DiCo to provide “a safe space for all kids: queer and trans children, kids of color, kids from all income brackets, kids who are national champions and kids who have no experience in Speech and Debate.” Their goal is to provide equal access to speech and debate programs for all students, regardless of income.
In his feature in Humans of New York, Conyers shared how DiCo encouraged him to join the debate club and coached and motivated him through multiple tournaments. He described how DiCo went above and beyond in caring for him, from offering to wash his clothes before a debate to covering tournament fees and staying after school until 8:30 pm for kids who didn’t feel safe at home.
Conyers stated in Humans of New York that DiCo taught him how to study and focus, and Conyers brought that passion home with him. “At night I’d go home and stand in front of the mirror with pencils in my mouth — just to practice my articulation,” he said.
Where the Money Will Go
The Humans of New York fundraiser is meant to help keep the Brooklyn Debate League up-and-running. The campaign page states they are operating on a shoestring budget, and that DiCo has already poured $6,000 of his own savings into the program.
In a statement on the campaign page, DiCo described how difficult it is for some students to participate in debate club: “The Speech and Debate community is notorious for gatekeeping. Most tournaments, summer camps, and leagues charge exorbitant fees for students to participate. This allows only certain voices to be heard in the Speech & Debate community. The community is dominated by private schools, parochial schools, and rich kids.”
DiCo also wants to expand the program, helping other local public schools build their own debate teams from scratch, and build a fellowship program that places debate coaches in high-need schools. Jonathan Conyers currently serves on the board of the organization.
Humans of New York Founder is a ’One-Man Philanthropy Machine’
Brandon Stanton has been described as a “one-man philanthropy machine” thanks to the crowdfunding campaigns he attaches to certain Humans of New York posts, raising millions of dollars for people in need. It’s always heartwarming to see public figures using their social media platforms for good.
More than 22,000 people have donated to the campaign so far. Among the hundreds of messages of support publicly posted on the campaign page, Stephanie Oyler wrote, “DiCo, you’re an inspiration. We all wish we had you as a teacher, but I’ll settle for making a tiny contribution to the good you’re creating in the world. Thanks for sharing your story.”
Amber J Adams shared their own story about the power of debate: “I got to see first hand how Speech and Debate can change kids lives when I worked in education in Harlem. These kids are just as smart and worthy as anyone else. They just need resources. Keep up the work, Dico. We got you.”
Ceeu n Uila Livai published this inspiring message: “We’re donating because we want the kids to know that people all over this country, people that look just like you and have the same stories as you, believe in you. We love you and we see you. No matter where you go in life, remember that. We see you!”
Lead image credit: “Brandon” by Niyantha is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.