We first profiled Vermont Fellow Jessica Bullock’s SPEAK Prison Debate Initiative back in August 2015. The project, which Bullock launched as part of a Vermont Law School (VLS) student group, was a highly successful effort to better prepare inmates at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility for life after prison by teaching them professional and personal speaking and presentation skills through the art of debate. So great was the demand for Bullock’s curriculum and programming that she has transformed her project into SPEAK Inc., an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in Rutland.
In addition to teaching debate in correctional settings, SPEAK Inc. offers its services to organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and individuals interested in launching debate programs or using it as a tool to improve presentation skills and build self-confidence. Bullock, who will graduate from VLS in May, also plans to continue developing the international partnerships she inaugurated this past year, which had her teaching debate to high school students in Italy in March and university students in China in August.
ASF is proud to have provided a foundation for Bullock to launch her organization. We are thrilled too, that other Fellows have been able to contribute to its growth: current Vermont Fellows and VLS students Antonietta Girardi and Laura Savall are also working for SPEAK Inc.–Girardi as assistant director and Savall as an instructor. Additionally, Nancy Gabriel, director of our New Hampshire/Vermont chapter, serves on SPEAK Inc.’s board of directors.
Bullock founded SPEAK at VLS in 2014. In two short years the group made its mark with a flurry of programming that included public speaking and debate instruction for VLS students; the aforementioned Prison Debate Initiative and teaching trips abroad; a partnership with Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, Vermont’s adolescent correctional facility; collaborated with UVM alumna Mariel Golden to host the inaugural SPEAK program for the African Refugee Development Center and presented “SPEAK: Promoting Powerful Voices” at the New England Clinical Conference at Harvard Law School.
In the process, SPEAK also received the 2015 VLS SBA Student Group Pro Bono Award and earned national recognition for its work with incarcerated people in stories by Vermont Public Radio, UVM Communications, and the Wall Street Journal. Despite SPEAK’s transition to an independent nonprofit, the law school will maintain the VLS SPEAK Chapter as a vehicle for students to continue promoting public speaking and advocacy on campus and to host events.