Black Leadership Conference celebrates history, legacy

The African American Student Union (AASU) held their annual Black Leadership Conference (BLC) from Feb. 19 to Feb. 21. The weekend long event started with a student and alumni mixer in the Alumni House Friday evening, and ended with several keynote speakers, a career fair and workshops the following Saturday at the Management Building and Sunday at the Ferst Center.

The theme of this year’s AASU was I-Change and stood as a call for students to explore and change their community.

“We wanted an event that would help develop community oriented leaders and provide tools with workshops about branding, business and etiquette that would help students later on in their life,” said Jakeisha Smith, third-year IE major and chairwoman of the BLC.

The 45-minute workshops offered during the conference covered a wide range of topics such as real estate purchasing strategies, leveraging opportunities from the growing media industry in Ga. and taking brand ideas from conception to market.

“[The workshops were] great, they were very informative. [The speaker] spoke in an understandable way about how federal agencies and tax credits work. I feel prepared to buy my home now,” said Shannon Wilson, fourth-year PTFE major. “[The AASU] took [the BLC] to another level this year through marketing and reaching out to other students. I also felt that the workshops are more pertinent to the economy. They did a better job of tailoring them to current events.”

Not only did the event provide a wide array of workshops, but the BLC featured a number of prominent speakers as well, such as Scot Safon, CNN worldwide executive vice president; Chuck D, co-founder of rap group Public Enemy and Mae C. Jemison, the first African American woman to go into space. Topics discussed included the history of the role of African Americans in the community through song, descriptions of how branding can influence perceptions and descriptions of how the speakers’ backgrounds affected them.

“I enjoyed workshops but I’m mainly coming because of the speaker. For example, I wanted to hear Dr. Mae Jemison speak since she was the first black woman astronaut,” said Brianna Blake, first-year IE.

In between the featured events on Saturday and Sunday were a town hall meeting and a banquet held later on Saturday after the day’s lectures and workshops.

The town hall meeting had a panel of minority speakers including several executives representing companies such as ADP and Procter and Gamble. The panel was hosted by actor and youth leadership activist Luis Ramos. Ramos led the discussion by introducing topics such as minority unemployment rates, the role of minority communities and the influence that their minority background had on each member of the panel. Audience members had time afterwards to conduct a Q&A session with the panel. There participants discussed their own experiences and perspectives on the aforementioned issues and dispensed advice to the younger members of the audience. The following banquet featured a scholarship ceremony to an outstanding member of the AASU, who exemplified academic prowess and also involvement in the community.

“The scholarship is $1000 and was funded thanks to our corporate sponsors,” said Joshua Wilkerson, fifth-year, ISYE major and president of AASU. “I would say this year because of the economy it was difficult to get funding. I think its important Tech supports future conferences like this.”

AASU hopes to continue to raise the conference’s profile in the years to come.

“We want more Tech students to attend the BLC. There are lots of leadership and networking development opportunities. I mean we had a top CNN exec speaking here. We are also trying to finish strong by holding Sunday’s events in the Ferst Center so more students can come,” Smith said. “For example we had forty students from other schools come: the NAACP branch in Kent State and the Black Affairs Council from UGA.”

The AASU has been organizing the BLC since 2004. Since its inception, it has hosted guests such as President Barack Obama and Cornel West, among others.