Rolland Janairo, Executive Director
Rolland Janairo, Executive Director

The Silicon Valley Urban Debate League (SVUDL) is pleased to announce that Rolland Janairo is joining the organization as its new Executive Director.

Born and raised in New York City to parents who immigrated from the Philippines, Rolland has developed a deep appreciation for the transformative power of education as a product of the NYC public school system. While attending and after graduating from Brown University, Rolland volunteered and taught at a preschool in Providence, Rhode Island. He later earned his Masters Degree in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

During his time in Boston, Rolland was the Associate Director of Teacher Development at Jumpstart for Young Children, as well as the Director of Playmaker Operations at Life is Good Playmakers. Most recently, Rolland served as the Chief Operating Officer at World Savvy. In his spare time, Rolland enjoys running, cooking, and exploring the Bay Area with his wife and two young boys.

Mecca Billings, Director of Development
Mecca Billings, Director of Development

Mecca Billings has more than twenty years of experience in fundraising strategy and management. She has utilized her fund development, analytical, entrepreneurial, creative, interpersonal, organizational and motivational skills in every position and client engagement she has held. She began her fundraising career at her alma mater, Harvard, where she worked in the Harvard College Fund during the University’s $2.1 billion campaign. Her extensive work for Harvard on the West Coast, and a Boston winter that ended with a snowstorm in April, inspired her to relocate to the sunnier climate of California.

In 2011, she founded Billings Consulting Group, a full-service fundraising consulting firm that has a special focus on capital campaign fundraising. She is also a consultant with Venture Leadership Consulting. Hailing from a family of educators, she is thrilled to work with SVUDL and its inspiring students.

Janet Escobedo, Head Coach
Janet Escobedo, Head Coach

Janet holds the perspective and insight of a debater who grew up in the UDL network. She began her debate career with the Milwaukee UDL and credits LaTonya Starks, former Director there, as a mentor and role model. “(LaTonya) was a go-getter- she went above and beyond for her debaters, took extra time to coach us when it came to nationals, and used her connections to help some of her debaters, including me, to receive scholarships to great debate camps across the nation. I have worked to become someone like her and pay it forward.”

Janet just completed her undergraduate studies at Georgia State University, earning a BA in Political Science/International Affairs with a Minor in Urban Education. She worked with the Atlanta UDL from 2010- 2017 as an instructor at their weekly Debate Centers and a Lab Leader in their summer program. She also served as a Lab Leader with her “alma mater" UDL through the Milwaukee Debate Institute, and worked with high school debaters from across the US through the Emory National Debate Institute. Just before joining SVUDL, she was working with students whose behavior had been identified as disruptive or inappropriate, helping them learn to manage conflicts and interact positively with peers and adults. Her passion for and deep knowledge of debate and experience in supporting youth are strong additions to SVUDL. 

Jimi Morales, Head Coach
Jimi Morales, Head Coach

Jimi’s life changed in 7th grade when he discovered debate. Previously bored in school and plagued by a stutter, debate helped him find a smooth, fluent, confident voice and an appealing challenge. He won many awards in his debate career, including placing in the top 21 of LD at the 2005 NFL nationals. Jimi earned his BA from Williams College in 2012 and was awarded the Williams/Sloane Coffin Passionate Public Speaking Prize for Social Justice during his time there. As a first-generation student on a full scholarship he found the critical thinking and writing skills he built through debate were invaluable to his success.

Jimi has consistently worked to help youth build skills and unlock their potential through debate, working at the Tabor Academy Summer Program, Niskayuna High School, and as a private debate coach. He is thrilled to return to the speech and debate community in a role that allows him to support and nurture urban debaters base whose backgrounds are similar to his own.  

Kwodwo Moore, Head Coach
Kwodwo Moore, Head Coach

Kwodwo has spent the past seven years involved in policy debate.  He began his debate experience as a high school junior when he was encouraged to join the Bay Area Urban Debate League team at Emery Secondary School. The combination of intellectual stimulation and community engagement helped feed Kwodwo’s desire for purpose, and he soon became involved in BAUDL's Leading With Debate Fellowship, which focuses on the soft skills students gain, fostered by policy debate.  After graduating from the program, during his freshman year at CSU East Bay, Kwodwo returned to his high school as a volunteer coach when he learned that the team was on the brink of disappearance after losing its coach. As a coach and as an advocate, Kwodwo led the debate team to great success.  
 
During his Sophomore year at CSU East Bay, he was one of the very first SVUDL volunteers and helped recruit students, run workshops and judge at tournaments in East Palo Alto. He was selected for a teaching position in SVUDL’s inaugural Summer Institute in 2015, and second Summer Institute in 2016. Kwodwo graduated with a Philosophy, B.A. from CSU East Bay in 2017 and won the Bassen Award for Philosophy in 2016 and 2017.
 

Rob Burns, Head Coach
Rob Burns, Head Coach

As a high school student growing up outside Atlanta, debate gave Rob a grammar for critically reflecting on the social and political world around him. After spending countless hours researching in the Emory Law Library and attending the Emory National Debate Institutes, he was awarded a full scholarship to debate at Liberty University in 1998. As a freshman, he qualified to the college national debate championship. After transferring to Wheaton College his sophomore year, he continued to work as a teaching assistant for Wheaton’s debate class, graduating in 2001 with a B.A. in political philosophy and a minor in urban studies.

For Rob, debate had a lasting and profound impact on his early career. Although he stopped competing in college, his work at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a political advocacy organization, was sparked by ideas he was introduced to in debate.

Those research skills and ideas continued to shape his professional life and eventually moved him to return to coaching. After teaching at the college level for several years, he began a policy program at Lindenwood University in Missouri. For his work training first-year college debaters, Rob was awarded the Dick Stein Coach of the Year award in 2013. Turning his focus to high school, Rob founded the policy debate team at North Star Academy in Newark, where he taught speech and debate to every grade level from 2014-2018. During his time at North Star, Rob coached the Co-Champions of the 2018 Harvard Invitational Debates in the policy division. Two of his varsity teams finished as quarterfinalists and octafinalists at the 2018 Tournament of Champions.

Jenet Manuel, Administrative & Operations Manager
Jenet Manuel, Administrative & Operations Manager

Jenet joins SVUDL with an in-depth knowledge of office management and considerable experience in organizational administration. She combines these skills – so critical for a growing nonprofit organization – with a passion for helping others.

Jenet has more than 16 years of general office experience and also has managed and  organized multicultural events and disaster relief operations, including necessary actions after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013.

Jenet earned her bachelor of science degree in customs administration from Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation in the Philippines and spent 11 years as a visa counselor, helping reunite families through tedious petitions and application processes, and also oversaw branch office operations.

She is excited that her work will support a program that inspires at-risk students to excel.

Brandon Montes, Alumni Intern
Brandon Montes, Alumni Intern

As founding captain of the Overfelt High debate team, Brandon helped grow one of the flagship programs in SVUDL. With guidance and support from coach Mark Wightman and league staff, he helped lead the Overfelt Royal Debaters to stand their ground and make a name for themselves. The team offered Brandon a chance to expanded his skills as well as being able to give back and offer his support to the next generation of SVUDL debaters.

As an intern, Brandon pursues his passion for coaching and helping novices and new recruits become strong leaders and skilled debaters. He currently attends De Anza Community College and plans to transfer next year, balancing his interests in political science and communications. Over the long term, Brandon plans to give back to his community as a politician or public servant.