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Students got the chance to display their debate skills at the event held at Brooklyn College. Photo by Janet Marcic/Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow

A non-profit organization that helps disadvantaged young people who have fallen through the cracks earn high school diplomas is also helping them improve their public speaking skills to give them more self-confidence.

Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow (OBT) sponsored a Debate Day at Brooklyn College on Jan. 15. Trainees from all four of OBT’s program sites across the city, including Sunset Park and Bushwick in Brooklyn, Jamaica, Queens, and Mott Haven in the Bronx, participated in the debates.

Debate Day served as the culmination of 16 weeks of intense preparation by the trainees in their public speaking and communications classes, according to OTB officials.

“Debate Day is a signature event of OBT and part of what sets us apart from other youth workforce development agencies. It goes miles towards building their self confidence and unlocks potential they never knew they had,” said Randy Peers, CEO of Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow.

The participants started off by presenting speeches on the topics of their choice, including cyber-bullying, the impact of television on children, gangs, body size, women in combat, the importance of zoos, young mothers, the experience of Muslims living in America, accents, music education in public schools, and stem cells.

For many of the participants, Debate Day marked their first experience speaking in public.

Following the presentations, two debate teams, from Sunset Park and Bushwick/Jamaica, engaged in a mock trial using the civil case, Jamie R. Killian v. R.A.G.E. Enterprises and Chris Schultz with the Sunset Park team arguing on behalf of the plaintiff and the Bushwick/Jamaica team representing the defendant.

OBT Board Member Vincent Chirico, a principal at the law firm Chirico Law PLLC, served as the judge. “After 20 years of being a lawyer, I could go into a courtroom and not find better advocates,” he said.

The jury, whose members included Robert Zweig, the New York City Department of Education’s deputy superintendent of District 79, and Michelle Robinson, Brooklyn borough principal of alternative schools, ruled in favor of the defendant.

Initially founded by Anthony Magnotti, OTB’s public speaking and communications teacher, and CEO Randy Peers, Debate Day has become an OBT tradition. Debates are held semi-annually.

The trainees said they learned a lot about themselves by putting themselves on the line.

“Debate day has taught me is that it’s 90 percent preparation and 10 percent perspiration. If you work hard and prepare yourself in advance to be successful, you can achieve great things,” said Raekwaun Bryant, a trainee at OTB’s Bushwick site.

Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow was founded in Sunset Park 1983 to help disadvantaged youths and adults get their lives back on track. OTB offers educational programs, job training and support services. The youth training course consists of a 20-week program that includes GED classes, business math, English, office procedures, computer classes, and public speaking and communications.

The Sunset Park program is located at 783 Fourth Ave. The Bushwick site, located at 25 Thorton St., opened in 2001.

For more information about Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, visit the organization’s website at www.obtjobs.org.

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