Wiley college receives 4th $100K installment of Denzel Washington foundation


Photo courtesy of Wiley College.

MARSHALL, Texas (KETK) – Wiley College received Denzel Washington’s fourth $100,000 foundation toward a $1 million commitment to support students of the debate team.

The historically Black college in Marshall, Texas, home of “The Great Debaters,” became popular by a 2007 film Washington directed and starred in as Professor Melvin B. Tolson.

Wiley English Professor Melvin B. Tolson | Photo courtesy of Wiley College Facebook page

Tolson was the debate team coach who led the college on a 10-year winning streak in the 1930s and developed interracial collegiate debates during the Jim Crow era.

“Supporting the next generation of brilliant minds in the art of debate at Wiley College will open so many doors of opportunity for these students during college, career, and beyond,” said Denzel Washington, who last visited the campus in 2018 for a debate competition. “We are honored to continue supporting the best and the brightest in the land and look forward to The Great Debaters continuing to do what they do best: win.”

Washington’s family foundation made the initial $1 million commitment in 2007 and has been donating $100,000 per year for a decade to revive the debate team which had dissolved after Tolson departed Wiley in 1947.

The foundation continued it’s ten-year commitment in 2018 where the funds were used to recruit debate team members and provide them with scholarships.

“We are grateful for the Washington family’s generosity for 15 years and counting to Wiley College’s phenomenal debate team, which, because of this support, can live out our motto to ‘Go forth Inspired,’” said Wiley College President Dr. Herman J. Felton. “Being a dominant force as home of The Great Debaters makes us a very attractive option for those skilled in debate, and this financial support further amplifies the benefits of becoming a Wiley debate scholar.”

The debate team is now called the Melvin B. Tolson and Denzel Washington Forensics Society. The team took a break from competing during the pandemic. The team has won national competitions including the prestigious Pi Kappa Delta national championship in 2014 and 2016 and will resume competitions in fall 2021 under the leadership of coach Caleb Williams.

Jaylon Bolden, a recent graduate of Wiley, was a member of the debate team for the past five years and competed on topics ranging from current events to policy to history. Bolden was awarded an $80,000 scholarship over the years due to the Washington family’s support.

“All throughout high school I just knew I was going to play football in college, but we make plans and God laughs. Coming to Wiley to be a part of the Tolson/Washington Forensics Society was divine intervention,” Bolden said. “I was a part of a legacy that was so much bigger than I could ever imagine.  Traveling the country to compete on behalf of my college, being a leader on campus, and having it paid for by Mr. Washington, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.” 

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