One of the most intractable and tragic aspects of American life is the plight of so many urban youth. The societal cost of this state of affairs is great; the human costs incalculable.  In the midst of the despair, however, sometimes come programs that make a difference.

An example that became the basis of the 2005 documentary, “Mad Hot Ballroom,” is the New York City public schools program that teaches ballroom dancing to fifth graders from different parts of the city.

Another example is the Boston Debate League, an organization that works with the Boston public schools to support academic teams in local high schools.  The BDL’s mission statement is to “measurably improve students’ academic achievement and their expectations of themselves … through academic debate.”

As the group explains it, “All students can realize the benefits from competitive policy debates.  In fact, the students who benefit the most are those who are currently not engaged in school and are in danger of dropping out….  In particular, we believe that policy debate can help reduce the achievement gap for urban students of color.”

And the facts seem to bear that out.  A University of Missouri study found that after one year in urban debate leagues, debaters attended school more frequently, improved their GPAs by 10 percent, and achieved a 25 percent increase in literacy scores.

Another Boston success story is its annual marathon, which this year will be run on April 16, and therein lies a connection to the BDL.  By a felicitous coincidence, The Media Institute’s vice president, Rick Kaplar, will be running in this year’s Boston Marathon, and he’ll be running for the Boston Debate League.

As Rick put it in a recent e-mail, “I like the idea of running for the Boston Debate League because debating is all about speech and freedom of expression – and it brings this form of speech to at-risk kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity.”

As set by the marathon organizers, the Boston Athletic Association, all runners for charity teams are required to raise a fixed amount of money for their teams in order to participate.  The Media Institute has made a contribution to the BDL in this regard, and if any of those who are regular readers of this blog would like to make a contribution as well, I know it would be greatly appreciated by Rick, and of material help to the Boston Debate League.

Here’s a link that will take you where you need to go for information about how to do that: “Team Debate.” And thanks for your interest and support.