Denver Urban Debate League programs break barriers for underserved students by enriching educational and personal outcomes for students of color and low-income students. Urban debate engages students, offering them experiences that they cannot always get in the classroom. Speech and debate programs teach students to develop a “growth mindset,” a set of attitudes that is strongly associated with success in life. In fostering academic skills and resiliency DUDL exists to ensure students graduate from and excel in high school and beyond. DUDL students become active and engaged citizens, well versed in issues of equity and public policy, equipped to interact critically with the world around them, make a difference in their communities, and add more diverse voices to our civil discourse.
Competitive speech and debate programs have traditionally been academic activities in which white youths and those with socioeconomic privilege have primarily engaged and succeeded. Recognizing both the lack of access to these activities for youths living in poverty and students of color, and the power of speech and debate to elevate learning, literacy, and life skills which prepare youth to succeed in the information age, community leaders founded the Denver Urban Debate League (DUDL) in 2008 based on a best practices model developed in New York, Atlanta, and Chicago. DUDL’s founding leadership launched the league in collaboration with the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) with a passionate belief that debate was not just another after-school club, but a life-changing trajectory that would have a lasting impact on families in our community.
In 2010 the DUDL became an independent 501(c)(3) and moved into office space at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law as part of their efforts to diversify the pipeline to the legal profession. DUDL began working exclusively with Denver Public Schools, but as the Denver city center becomes increasingly gentrified, DUDL has expanded the areas DUDL serves based on the areas of greatest need in our community and development of strong partnerships with additional school districts. These indicators led DUDL to begin serving Mapleton Public Schools in 2011, Aurora Public Schools in 2014, and Westminster Public Schools in 2019. DUDL added several competitive speaking events to DUDL's core programming in 2015. Before DUDL was launched very few schools in our partner school districts offered competitive speech and debate opportunities and these programs relied on the financial support of parents, favoring students and families who could afford to invest in training, entry fees, and transportation.
DUDL’s programs are unique in that they fully fund participation to ensure equitable opportunities for all students. DUDL has been recognized as the Non-Profit Organization of the Year (2014) by the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association and as the Outstanding Service Organization of the Year (2017) by the Professional Liability Underwriting Society. In 2018 DUDL celebrated ten years of programming with a gala that was our most successful fundraising effort to date. In 2019 DUDL began a new era of growth with a focus on deepening our impact in the community and building a stronger and more sustainable organization to support DUDL's programs. With the help of a technical assistance grant from the Denver Foundation the DUDL was able to work with a consultant who worked with the Board of Directors to increase their fundraising skills and develop a fundraising plan. In 2019 DUDL received our first major gifts of stock to create a renewable fund and added our first alumna member to the Board of Directors.