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The Most Important Thing I’ve Done With My Life

This post is not about jiujitsu except in the most tangential of ways, but it is timely and important to me. I hope you enjoy it anyway, and if so moved, you click through and take 2 minutes to register your vote, which is absolutely free and generates no spam. I would also love it if you would share. Thank you!

I started doing debate in 1989 at Canby High School in Oregon. Debate taught me to think, to work hard, and to listen to other people.

For a lot of other debaters, this turns them into lawyers. Me, it turned me into a journalist and, later, a public relations person for social justice causes (among other things).

If there is a common thread to my delightfully odd life, it comes from debate: you identify a problem. You think about what you can do to help, listening to the smartest folks you can find along the way. And you do what you can. This isn’t so different from what animates me about jiujitsu, now that I think about it.

That’s more or less how the Women’s Debate Institute started.

Year one of the Women's Debate Institute, 15 years ago.

Year one of the Women’s Debate Institute, 15 years ago.

When I was coaching high school debate in Washington, we had amazing young women debaters in the state … and they almost all quit debate after a few days, or weeks, or months. I thought about that human potential and how valuable debate could have been for these folks that were, for one reason or another, leaving the activity in droves. I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember (being the only male child of a single mom can do that to you), and it seemed like a crime to let this keep happening.

That was in 2000. Almost 15 years later, a bunch of fantastic people have helped WDI grow beyond my wildest dreams. Improvements I couldn’t possibly have envisioned, other folks made happen.

Debate camps typically cost thousands of dollars, excluding the very populations for whom debate is most beneficial. It was always important to me to keep the camp affordable, and we did. But the team that took the reins was able to raise enough money to do national outreach and make the camp free. Free!

Last year's camp.

Last year’s camp.

The lesson, for me: No one of us is as smart as all of us. No individual is capable of what we’re capable of together.

Debate’s transformational power can’t be overstated. I probably would not have gone to college without it. Through WDI, hundreds of young people have had this and other doors opened to them. Where there was tremendous need, we’ve made incredible strides.


I’ve been really lucky over the course of my 40 years on this planet: I’ve lived and worked in incredible places and met a ton of wonderful people, people I’m in awe of.

But WDI is the best thing I’ve ever done with my life, and it’s populated with some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, and I’m proud to still be a small part of it.

I could tell you hundreds of WDI stories. Instead, though, I’m going to ask you for your help. It will take you two minutes, won’t cost you anything and won’t get you spam.

Sometime between now and the end of Thursday night, please vote for us to receive a $10,000 grant. You can vote once just by clicking and have your vote count three other times by sharing on Facebook, Twitter and via email. This grant is almost one-fourth of our budget, and will enable us to bring in deserving students from all around the country to learn — for free — from debate’s top minds.

To make an analogy, imagine getting to train with Rickson Gracie, the Mendes Brothers and Marcelo Garcia — as a teenager. For free. When you never thought anything like that was possible before. Imagine how much that would change your life.

Now imagine you could make that happen for someone else with a few clicks of the mouse.

Wouldn’t you do it? Won’t you?


About Jeff

I write, work for social justice, listen to music and grapple. That's about it for now.

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