Magazine article The Crisis

High School Debate Coach Is MacArthur "Genius" Winner

Magazine article The Crisis

High School Debate Coach Is MacArthur "Genius" Winner

Article excerpt

Tommie Lindsey's fourth-period forensics class in Room 408 bustles with typical teenaged energy. But Lindsey, 53, and his students, are anything but typical.

As coach of the James Logan High School forensics team in Union City, Calif., Lindsey leads a program of 240 students in the art of public speaking and debate. Not a simple task given that forensics is usually practiced in a small, competitive arena typically reserved for affluent school districts.

The James Logan program, however, is one of the most racially diverse in the country and features students mostly from economically challenged backgrounds. In a public school system with dwindling support services, the team has won four state championships, has finished tournaments in no lower than fourth place in the past decade and is nationally known as one of the best programs in the country.

Lindsey has received both local and national recognition, including being named California Teacher of the Year, National Forensics Coach of the Year and one of the Top 10 influential African Americans in the Bay area. He's been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was even the subject of a PBS documentary.

Most recently, though, Lindsey's success with the James Logan forensics program has earned him a prestigious MacArthur "genius" grant. The MacArthur Fellows Program awards $500,000 stipends to those who have "exceptional creativity."

Born in Panther Burn, Miss., Lindsey was raised in the San Francisco Bay area.

Growing up, he loved the oratory skills of Martin Luther King Jr. …

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