Black History Month expands diversity awareness


For the seventh year now, Tech’s African American Student Union will host its Black Leadership Conference over the Feb. 19-21 weekend, focusing on their I-Change campaign: a call to individual change in and out of their normal communities.

“The Black Leadership Conference is a breeding ground for those who believe in leadership and diversity and those that are willing to grow in their leadership journey,” Jakeisha Smith, third-year IE and co-chair of this year’s Black Leadership Conference (BLC) committee, said, “This year in particular is ‘I-Change: filling the void between self and community.’”

The conference starts with the Partnership and Alumni Reception, co-hosted by the Black Alumni Organization, at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, at the Georgia Tech Alumni House. The first major events start the next day at 8 a.m. in the Management Building, featuring workshops and keynote speakers.

Saturday morning and early afternoon, business professionals from companies like Proctor and Gamble, Turner Studios and ADP will cover areas of community leadership, personal financial strategies and entrepreneurship.

Scot Safon, a CNN Worldwide executive vice president responsible for marketing the CNN brand, will also deliver a keynote address on personal branding—a recent career management technique most pervasively used by Donald Trump, like “Trump Tower” and “Trump Steaks.”

To end the day, actor and youth leadership activist Luis Ramos will moderate a town hall panel discussing important diversity.

Sunday will start with a community service project in the morning and end with a keynote speech in the Ferst Center for the Arts, delivered by Dr. Mae Jemison—the first African American woman in space—and Chuck D—author and co-founder of Public Enemy. The speech is free to all Tech students, and Smith aims to completely pack the theater. Smith has gone as far as asking her past professors to offer extra credit to students who attend.

“We want participants to take this sort of accountability that I feel is necessary for us to progress as a people,” Smith said, “I want us to create community-minded people that are going to be willing to reach out to their neighbors and be a resource to others.”

The entire conference weekend costs $20 per Tech student. Advertised extensively at Tech and in the metro area, this year’s BLC will also include alumni and students from UGA, metro Atlanta high schools and even Kent State University in Ohio.

“We’re definitely expanding the program, and it should also be noted that it is one of the biggest student conferences in the Southeast,” Smith said, “If someone’s aware of the conference all the way in Ohio, then it just goes to show how we’ve expanded the program so far.”

Smith considers the conference the “big finale” of the African American Student Union’s (AASU) year-long I-Change campaign.

Members with the BLC committee have contributed 500 hours to community service in metro Atlanta since August, including starting an SAT-prep program and working with local volunteer organizations like Team Buzz and Hands On Atlanta.

“It’s about making the impact, because you can’t become a leader in two or three days that is the BLC. That’s why we started planning last year,” Smith said, “We also partnered with career services at one time to have pre-conference workshops so that students can have a transition process prior to the conference”

The Black Leadership Conference is the AASU’s signature event during Black History Month; however, the Black History Chair is responsible for Black History Month advocacy across campus, featuring several events to celebrate Black culture. Events include a jazz night, arts festival, trivia night at Junior’s Grill, a high school essay contest and the Onyx Ball.

“Our main focus right now is black history, and it’s more so based upon social action. We’ve always tried not being complacent, and we are always being vigilant about what’s going on around us,” Smith said, “We are addressing issues that we think are pertinent right now in the Black community. We want to create that family feeling amongst our community at Tech.”

The BLC committee coordinates the conference as well as the Leadership for Tomorrow program, a mentoring academy started last September for about 50 inner-city high school students.

The students involved will be presenting their information at a gala the Saturday of the BLC, where the students are divided into small groups to plan and execute community service projects.

Smith is a second-year mentor whose group last year had a bake sale and donated their contributions to Haiti police efforts. All projects are fully funded by campus sponsors like SGA, Career Services and the Institute of Leadership and Entrepreneurship, who first sponsored the BLC.

Another successful youth program is the high school SAT prep program. Students are all from local metro area Atlanta schools, like Maynard Jackson High School.

“Last semester we had about 75 [high school] students, but due to overwhelming responses we’re looking to expand it this semester to 200 students. We are reaching out to departments on campus to see if they could donate the SAT practice books to us,” Smith said.

Last semester AASU has other social events like movie nights, which are usually in the Instructional center; for this, they have partnered with some of the Pan Hellenic Council organizations in the past.

Also this year, sometime in April, they will start the Legends Ball program, highlighting dynamic people in the community in several categories. AASU is also seeking to expand membership; of their roughly 200 members, most of them are of African American race.

“I would love to get to a point where we have persons of all skin tones that are going to be; I want AASU to grow in such a way so that not just black people feel comfortable coming to our meetings or coming to our events,” Smith said, “Although we have participation from other races, I just want our numbers to increase so we can move forward with that.”