Many of Birmingham's most talented students find their potential compromised by a lack of rigorous academic opportunities. SpeakFirst uses academic debate as a platform to support these students and guide them on a path toward excellence in college and beyond.

  • % of students from the bottom quarter of lowest-earning U.S. families earning a college degree:
  • 8.6%
  • Every element of SpeakFirst addresses the deficits in low-income communities that impede students from being prepared for, and enrolling in, college.
  • Amount of college scholarships earned by 4 SpeakFirst graduates in 2015:
  • $435,000
  • UA, UAB, and UAHuntsville provide full-tuition scholarships to our seniors, and our students earn many more scholarships to nationally-ranked schools.
  • Number of debate practices in 2014-15:
  • 103
  • Our students practice three hours per day, three days per week to prepare for debate tournaments. Academic debate is widely accepted as the most valuable extracurricular activity to prepare kids for success in college.
  • % of rounds won by our juniors & seniors in 2014-15:
  • 56%
  • Our students compete and hold their own against the best schools in the state.

"A lot of the inequalities that exist in our education system come not from the fact that students don't take advantage of opportunities, but that they aren't offered in the first place. You can't expect a child to perform if she is given no opportunity to do so." --Jennifer Moore, 2014 Vanderbilt University Graduate & SpeakFirst Alumna

Our SpeakFirst film features alumni reflecting on the lack of opportunities in their communities, and how SpeakFirst enriched their academic and social experience to better prepare them for college.

A $500 contribution sends a SpeakFirst student to one of their monthly out-of-town debate tournaments, as well as 18 hours of debate practice to hone their skills beforehand.

Current educational opportunities for many of Alabama's talented and motivated children are compromised by a poorly funded public school system and lack of educational choices outside of the classroom, which subsequently limits academic performance and achievement. As with many urban centers across the nation, the consequences of limited learning opportunities for Birmingham's most promising students can be devastating. Unless their educational experience is one that includes schools with extensive resources and a wide array of opportunities for extracurricular learning, their academic and social needs will not be fulfilled, and their chances of enrolling and excelling in college are significantly diminished.

Meet our SpeakFirst High School Team

Apply for the SpeakFirst Middle School Team

SpeakFirst Middle School

The National Forensics League High School Debate Association has prioritized the development of middle school debate programs across the country, due to the array of exceptional skills that can be developed through participation in debate. In August 2013, SpeakFirst launched a citywide middle school debate league for Birmingham City students at six local schools. The cognitive and non-cognitive skills developed through the SpeakFirst middle school debate initiative—research, writing, public speaking, perseverance, and commitment—will provide a strong foundation for these students as they prepare for high school and, ultimately, college.

More than 100 middle school students participated in our second year, debating in four citywide tournaments. The top debaters earned $2,300 in college scholarships at the end of the season.

Impact Alabama Celebrates Successful First Year of SpeakFirst Middle School Debate League for Birmingham Students



Architecture Works provides in-kind space for our daily SpeakFirst practices during the academic year.

The University of Alabama has committed four-year, full-tuition scholarships to all SpeakFirst students who successfully complete three years of the program.

UAB has committed four-year, full-tuition scholarships to all SpeakFirst students who successfully complete three years of the program.

UAH has committed four-year, full-tuition scholarships to all SpeakFirst students who successfully complete three years of the program.


Impact America, an AmeriCorps Program, is housed and supported by the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility at The University of Alabama.  Additional office space is provided by UAB and Maynard, Cooper & Gale, PC.