Students on the Howard University Mock Trial team traveled to Elizabethtown College in early April to affirm what time had proven to be true; they are among the best in the nation. While the group faced numerous challenges their first year back on campus following a pandemic, they were able to solidify their elite status after ranking sixth out of more than 700 teams nationwide at the American Mock Trial Association’s National Championship.
“This was more than just a win for me; it was a reminder to myself that I am Black, capable and surrounded by people who want to see me win,” said senior Tenysia Rivera. “My team means the moon and all the stars to me and I’m so excited to have forged more greatness into HUMTT’s rich history. The sensational seven can never be defeated.”
This is Howard’s smallest team to make the top 10, alongside their most decorated national championship in the program’s history. The team competed against 48 other teams and rose to the occasion leaving Cody Smith with the titles of “Top Witness” and “All-American Witness”, in addition to Jaelan Trapp who was voted “Top Attorney.”
“This being my last year on the team, I am immensely proud that I could end on such a high note. Our accomplishments in this season have undeniably upheld the legacy of Howard University in the mock trial circuit,” said Trapp. “There were a few bumps in the road along the way, but every member of our nationals team was dedicated to seeing our success.”
One of their biggest obstacles was finding a space to practice. In previous years, the team would spend long hours in the iLab, which operated 24 hours a day, but the space closed abruptly at 10 p.m. this year. President Angelyn Armistead eagerly offered her apartment as a moot court room. However, she credits a large majority of the team’s success to their coach Attorney Angela Minor.
“I think Attorney Minor is the one and only reason that we are able to compete at the level we do, year after year she is available at any time in the morning and any time at night to make sure the org is running smoothly,” said Armistead. “She lost her father this year and she spent time in Virginia and we went to nationals and no longer had a coach and while celebrating the life of her father I was always able to reach her even in her grieving state and I think that says a lot about that woman.”
Minor has simultaneously served as a coach for the Mock Trial and Speech and Debate teams for 12 years. This year, the Speech and Debate team won first place in Parliamentary Debate at the HBCU National Speech and Debate Championship.
“My coaching style consists of positive energy while maintaining a competitive team environment. My focal point is giving students the encouragement and legalese for formidable argumentation and examination styles,” said Minor. “I have learned the key to building students who participate in intellectual sports is the never ending quest of developing a culture that supports a diverse talent of critical thinkers. Coaching has truly been a labor of love.”
Minor often finances the squad out of pocket, purchasing all general supplies ranging from staplers to demonstratives, team meals, hotel stay and even gas to travel to different competitions.
“She’s like a team mom; anything a mom has to do for a soccer team she does for us,” said Armistead. “I pretty much came to Howard for the Mock Trial team.”
For the past decade, Howard has been the only HBCU to compete at the American Mock Trial Association’s National Championship. This year for the first time more than one HBCU was represented since Dillard, New Orleans’ smallest HBCU, advanced to nationals. However, both teams have described a notable difference in their competitive edge due to a lack of resources, especially during the pandemic.
“In the past we were ranked top 20 at nationals and once Zoom hit we weren’t even getting to nationals, technology was an issue,” said Armistead. “All the white schools with institutional support had all these software capabilities that we didn’t have; we were stuck using Canva and anything free that we could to compete, we weren’t ranking anywhere online and once we got back in person things went back to normal.”
The Howard Mock Trial team has a winning history. In 1997, Howard won the national championship and the runner up in 2003. Harvard University and Yale University consistently rank in the top 2 which is a goal that Howard hopes to achieve soon.
“I don’t plan on this being the team’s last time in the top 10, as I plan to spend 3 more years competing for this team, meaning at least three more national rankings in years to come,” said freshman competitor Trey James.
In fact, his teammate believes they have a different type of advantage.
“Although we are competing in predominantly white spaces, I feel it’s important to note that in mock trials regardless of whether you’re competing as a witness or an attorney, you are being judged on your ability to clearly and persuasively tell a story,” said sophomore Jordan Nabwe. “The arts of storytelling, oration, and discourse have played crucial roles in each and every one of the cultures that make up the African diaspora and I feel extremely proud to be using these skills, instilled in me by my culture, as well as my coaches and teammates to win competitions while learning how to win in a real court and create real change for my community.”
Copy edited by Lauryn Wilson