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The Accidental Hero: Mr. Tommie Lindsey

by Erik Fogel | Aug 11, 2017 3:04:13 PM |

Mr. Lindsey, James Logan High School



Shout outs to my debate coach, Mr. Tommie Lindsey who coached speech and debate for 30 years at James Logan High School in Union City, California and recently retired. He was honored at a city council meeting last week. "Lindsey created and for almost three decades led the forensics program at James Logan High School in Union City. During that time, individual students have brought home 72 state championship- and 40 national championship-level awards in various categories of public speech and debate." (http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/07/28/retired-forensics-teacher-helped-students-to-find-their-voice-through-life/)


Mr. Lindsey was the first African American to be valedictorian at the University of San Francisco.  He first taught public speaking at Alameda Jevenile Hall in 1976. "It was there, I saw so many lives being wasted and decided I dneeded to reach them before they got here (juvenile hall)."  Mr. Lindsey became a teacher at James Logan High School in Union City, CA and started one of the largest and most successful speech and debate programs in the nation. 40% of high school students at James Logan High School go on to college, whereas 90% and more of Mr.Lindsey's students go on to college. We learned more in Mr. Lindsey's classroom than all our high school, college, graduate courses combined. Every morning, every day, every evening, every weekend - there was always students practicing, researching, coaching, debating, speaking, acting, etc.



PBS made a movie "The Accidental Hero" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bM7wLhiOxM) about Mr. Lindsey and Room 408 where myself and thousands of other students learned so much from Mr. Lindsey. When I was an freshman Mr. Lindsey told me "You are going to be a debater." And I was hooked after that. He would take us in a van to all the local tournaments. By the time I graduated he had a fleet of buses taking hundreds of students to debate tournaments.

Mr. Lindsey also co-authored the book, " It Doesn't Take a Genius." (http://amzn.to/2wBjJM5). From special education students to english language learners to valedictorians - every student was welcome in Room 408, every student was a Genius, every student was a Great Debater, and Mr. Lindsey was and is there for every single student.


Mr. Lindsey was recognized by Oprah Winfrey's "Angel Award" and by the MacArthur Genius Foundation with a $500,000 Genius Award for his work. His other awards include:

  • 1994 California Teacher of the Year
  • 2000 “National Forensics Coach of the Year”
  • 2003 Oprah Winfrey Angel Award
  • 2004 MacArthur Fellows Program
  • 2012 Bronx Achievement Award
  • 2015 Carlston Family Foundation Award

But those awards are little compared with the thousands of students he impacted who have went on to impact thousands of others around them. His students include teachers, coaches, doctors, lawyers, engineers, politicians, nonprofit leaders, and the list goes on and on and on and on.


It was funny that when I was a senior in high school Mr. Lindsey would always say that was his last year of coaching speech and debate! But of course he would be there the next year and the next year and the next year. And while he has "retired" he will continue to coach, continue to inspire, continue to impact millions of students. Mr. Lindsey is also on the Board of the National Speech and Debate Association and so literally impacts millions of students now!

So thank you Mr. Lindsey for being my coach, my role model, my inspiration for everything I do - and millions of others of the lives you impacted to make the world a better place. 


As Mr. Lindsey's states: 


“In the end, forensics is about building and establishing yourself as a person, as a citizen. When you do that you can use your voice as your drum to fight for social justice until equity becomes the rhythm of the land.”

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