A Season For Savannah

A Season For Savannah

Savannah Walker

In March 2017, most of the Malcolm X Debate team was in rural Kansas to compete in a debate tournament. Team member Savannah Jeanne Walker, a novice who was new to both the team and the activity, remained behind in Louisville to support her father and brother after the loss of her mother. On March 19th, the team learned that Savannah, affectionately known as Van, had been killed when she was struck by a stray bullet while attending a performance. In the moment when we learned of Savannah’s death, our team was broken, ripped apart.  

As a competitive debate team, we’ve experienced our share of losses, so to speak, but this loss was by far the greatest and most painful to fathom. We had just met.  We were just getting started.  Van and Junior Chinnel Williams, another novice who was her debate partner, were just beginning to carve out their place in an activity they had already grown to love, one that had allowed them to find their voice as advocates for Black girls everywhere.  After Van’s death, the team wanted to honor her and her passion for debate. Collectively, we decided to dedicate the 2017-2018 debate season to Van, letting her spirit to guide us as we developed and advanced arguments based in Black Feminist literature. Our vow, our goal, was to make a run at a National Championship.

Chinnel was especially committed to the goal of competing in a national tournament and could not be deterred.  She had competed in only five tournaments with Van, so she dedicated herself to learning the game of debate. To be successful, Chinnel—a brilliant scholar and focused student—needed a new partner who could match her intellect AND provide the knowledge of and background in debate she needed to be successful. That person was Deontrey Yeargin, a freshman from Baltimore, MD.  The competitive chemistry between the two was immediately apparent. It was as if Van had sent him to us.

Both Chinnel and Deontrey read Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ dissertation, We Can Learn to Mother Ourselves:  The Queer Survival of Black Feminism 1968-1996. They would also study the works of Black feminist authors like June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Hortense Spillers, Viviane Saleh-Hanna, and many others. This collection of scholars became the foundation for their arguments, laying the groundwork for a season to remember.