I’m still on a slight high from this amazing conference I attended on the campus of Virginia Tech this weekend! Virginia Tech hosted the 3rd Annual “Uplifting Black Men Conference” on Friday, February 19, 2016 and I’m so glad I was in the room.
Last Tuesday, I was invited by my brother, who just so happened to be a featured speaker at the one day event. Being a Virginia Tech Alumnus, he was thrilled to go. Although I was excited for this great opportunity to network, I was slightly concerned that I may not be fully prepared. So the first thing I did was put urgency on the new business card design that I had requested from a graphic designer, just a day before. By the grace of GOD, I was able to get new cards that reflected my brand, printed and ready to pick up by Thursday after work. Immediately after completing that task, I hastily left work to head up the highway to meet with my brother and my Dad.
The trip itself was a bit tiring and long, but the moment I stepped into the Moss Auditorium on Friday morning I filled with inspiration and excitement as I began to pull knowledge from the perspectives of Virginia Tech faculty, alumni, and current students. It was simply a powerful room. It was full of optimistic young black men who are growing into the roles of our future CEOs, Social Leaders, and other esteemed roles in our society; and it was full of wise men and women of experience , men who run and have ran million dollar companies, and most importantly, it was full of men and women who are dedicated to inspiring and mentoring black men.
The event included two featured speakers: Kevin Jones graduated in 2014 and played in the NFL (and now is an Assistant Athletic Director at Virginia Tech), and my brother Justin Graves, who graduated in 2014 and is the founder of an amazing platform/Brand called HESONWHEELS. Justin spoke about very candidly about social identity and shared things about his own social identity, how his experiences have shaped his personal view and how his identity as a man with paralysis is stronger than his identity as a black man. He followed that up by showing how you can open yourself to great opportunities, when you step out, meet people and develop genuine relationships with them (Automatically one of my favorite talks of the day!)
The conference also included two panels. One was the Generations of Leadership Panel that included 3 men who represented three different generations of Tech graduates: Keith BK Fulton (a 1989 graduate, retired corporate professional who is a currently on the VT Board of Visitors and Chairman of Dity Apps), Yuhannes Watts (a 2002 graduate, Entrepreneur and Chief Linking Officer of Learn2Link), and Everette Taylor (a 2013 graduate, Founder & CEO of MilliSense, and Growth Marketing Strategist to Microsoft).
This had to have been one of my other favorite parts of the event. I loved the way the panelists spoke candidly about their experiences. BK Fulton still sticks out in my mind as he spoke on how he wasn’t doing too well at first and was close to leaving while he was at Tech. It’s stories like his that go to show perseverance and how you can never tell where someone’s path is going to take them. Fulton even spoke on how he made it a goal of his to retire by 50 and he retired at 49.
The Second Panel was the Student Leader Panel that consisted of Deon Brown, Jabari Bird, Hy’Quan Connor and Tony Jackson, all students who are expecting to graduate this year. They shared their riveting experiences and shared with us their experiences as a black man on a predominately white institution and how they’ve been able to find balance with their school and campus life.
Another favorite event was an insightful “Telling Your Stories” hands on session during lunch where each table was encouraged to tell their stories about what their experience was like as a black man at Virginia Tech and how they overcame a challenge to succeed. Of course not every one could speak on being a black man or a student at Tech, but it really opened up dialogue and made for an interesting dining experience in getting to know new people.
Finally, the featured speaker, Dr. Terrell Strayhorn (a 2005 graduate, Director for Higher Education Enterprise at Ohio State University, and Professor of Higher Education) was AMAZING. Not only was he a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, but he showed up, showed out, and represented well!
There were so many elements of him and his presentation that were fascinating. He began by urging us to Admit our problems/issues as a community. He followed up by stating, “Once you admit them, you can manage them,” which seems simple but was a powerful realization for me as he followed by urging us to then address issues then take action. I’ll never forget how he touched us all with his story of his grandmother, as he encouraged us all to take care of those close to us while they’re here. This is particularly a message that relates to all of this because he reiterates how important our loved ones are to us and how they help mold us into who we are.
I’ve shared my conference experience to do 3 things.
First, I wanted to put a Humble Spotlight on Virginia Tech and the creators of the Uplifting Black Men Conference for putting on such an amazing event and inviting the community.
Second, I wanted to share with you the importance of conferences like this, not just because it’s Black History Month, but because we need to start putting on and attending more conferences like this, nation-wide that instill greater courage and confidence in our young black men while they are still moldable, prepare them for secondary institutions and the world as a whole. These are also powerful events for black men of all ages, especially those who may think they’re alone in their challenges while on predominately white institutions (PWIs).
Third, I wanted to share this because it’s important to me. I feel that it’s part of my responsibility to help uplift our youth. I especially feel the responsibility because I’ll likely, one day, be a mother to a young black man and if I don’t know what they are facing I will be doing him and other young men, whom I mentor, a disservice.
What are you doing to educate yourself on the issue that black youth are facing? If an event as powerful as this was presented to you community would you attend? Share your thoughts and let me know!