Meet the 15-year-old ground-breaking Eagle Scout debate champion

Christian Flournoy likes to stay busy.

In addition to being an active member of Troop 197 in Atlanta, Christian plays football, runs track and is a member of a local debate club.

In fact, this summer, Christian won an international debate tournament hosted by the Harvard University Debate Council, scoring a perfect 5-0 ballot in the final round.

How does he balance it all with school and other day-to-day chores?

He learned that in Scouting.

“I took working on my Eagle project as yes, I have to manage my time,” he says. “At first it was maybe a little hard, but as time went on it just helped me create a sense of organization in my life that I still use now.

“Like when I’m at school and I look at my classes, I make schedules and I make sure that I’m doing this at this time, and I get this work done in a certain time, because organization is key.”

The Great Debaters

Christian, along with debate partner Madison Webb, competed in the Harvard event as part of Atlanta’s Great Debaters team. Christian became the youngest Black male to ever win the competition, while Madison became the first Black female to win.

It’s a significant accomplishment that was years in the making.

For Christian, it started in seventh grade, when a teacher recommended that he audition for the Harvard Diversity Project, an Atlanta-based program that recruits and trains Black youth for an elite summer residency at Harvard University.

Another milestone was when he earned the Public Speaking merit badge.

“One thing that they taught us was how to command the room and grab their attention,” he says. “It made me confident that if I have a message that I want to put out there, I’m confident in my ability to do so. I went from doing the Public Speaking merit badge to winning a Harvard debate competition. That just speaks volumes for what you can do when you work hard and when you have the opportunities and when you prepare.”

Juggling it all

To earn his spot on the debate team, Christian had to go through a series of interviews, each one tougher than the last. When he showed up for what he thought was his final interview, it turned out he had already made the team.

“I was trying to get my head in the game and think about what questions do I need to ask and what do I need to be answering,” he says. “And then I get up on the stage and we’re watching this video and then I turn around and they’re like, ‘You’re in the class of 2020!’ I was so excited because I had never really thought that I could do this.”

In his “free” time, Christian remained active in Troop 197, leading the installation of a gaga ball pit at his school for his Eagle service project.

“One thing I’m always passionate about is helping people,” he says. “Scouts really encompasses that. To help people out … Do a Good Turn Daily …

“Like being a patrol leader or a senior patrol leader on a campout, you’re able to help out all the people on the campout and you’re able to lead different things with the troop.”

An inspiration

Christian says his favorite Scouting activity is camping. He says he loves the food they eat on their campouts, and he also loves getting away from it all every once in a while.

“I love the whole aspect of camping that you’re going outdoors away from electronics and all of that, and you just look up at the stars and it’s amazing,” he says. “There’s just so many great things about the outdoors.”

A typical debate competition can be very much like a sporting event. One person has a few minutes to talk about a topic. Then the other team takes their allotted time.

There are ups and downs. Your team scores, then the other team scores. And at the end, the winning team celebrates together like crazy.

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the most recent Harvard competition was held virtually. For Christian, it made the process more challenging, but it didn’t make the victory any less sweet.

“I hope that it can be an inspiration to other young Black and brown boys that they can do whatever they want,” he says. “It was a lot of hard work. And being the youngest to do it just means that there’s no age barrier for what’s stopping you from what you can do.

“I really just hope that it can be inspirational.”

About Aaron Derr 18 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Boys' Life and Scouting magazines, a former Cubmaster and current Scouts BSA volunteer.