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Black History Month @ Harvard Business School

This was the first year the African-American Student Union (AASU) sponsored a month long celebration of black history at HBS in honor of the nationally recognized Black History Month (BHM) which is held each February. This year’s celebration involved three signature events that highlighted key areas of black history and culminated in the 32nd Annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference. The events were intended to increase awareness about the contributions that African-Americans have made in the US, as well as the challenges they have overcome throughout history.

To begin the month, the AASU sponsored a viewing of Four Little Girls, the Spike Lee movie which details the events surrounding the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama that led to the death of four innocent young girls. The horrible nature of this crime helped to draw the nation’s attention to the severe problems of racism in this country. The film viewing was attended by approximately 40 students and included a healthy discussion concerning the issues presented by the film.

In the following weeks, members of the AASU organized presentations for each of the RC sections. The section presentations documented a more complete look at the history of Blacks in this country starting with slavery and leading up to the present day. These presentations were very well received and provided a much needed look into the African-American experience. Some of the highlights were detailed overviews of the civil rights movement and the recent accomplishments of Blacks in business.

These included the mention of Black executives who are at Fortune 500 firms and are also HBS alums, like Stan O’Neal, CEO of Merrill Lynch, Ann Fudge, CEO of Young & Rubicam, and Pamela Thomas-Graham, CEO of CNBC. Some sections provided lunch catered by Boston Soul Food Restaurants to add to the cultural experience.

An important event of the Black History Month programming was the Sankofa celebration which highlighted the different heritage of blacks in America – African American, African, and Caribbean. Attendees were treated to a night of food and performances which highlighted the diversity of the black diaspora.

The final event in the celebrations was the 32nd Annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference. While not a new event, this conference continues to be the highlight of the African American Student Union activities each year. The conference was named after H. Naylor Fitzhugh, one of the first African Americans to earn an MBA from Harvard in 1933. H. Naylor Fitzhugh’s legacy extends pass the conference as Dr. David Thomas, the current LEAD course head, is the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration.

This year’s conference, held from February 20th through 22nd at the Westin Copley, kicked off with an intimate talk given by Quincy Jones and drew such business and political notables as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Jeffrey Humber, Jr. (retired Senior Vice President of Merrill Lynch & Co.), Derek Ferguson (CFO of P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Entertainment), Jonathan Mariner (Executive Vice President and CFO of Major League Baseball), Jacqueline Jones (General Manager of Clear Channel Bahamas), James Lowry (Vice President and Director of the Boston Consulting Group), Lisa Ellis (Senior Vice President of Sony Music Entertainment), and Lee Gaither (Vice President of Programming and Development for NBC and the newly named Vice President of Programming and Development for TV One).

Over 500 attendees came from around the country to interact with these and other business leaders as the conference tackled topics such as Endless Possibilities – Using Your MBA to Realize Your Dreams, Leveraging the African Diaspora – Creating Opportunities and Partnerships in the Caribbean, Calling the Shots – Different Ways to Become Your Own Boss, The New Frontier – Generating Superior Returns in Urban Markets, and A Look Behind the Scenes – Building Equity and Gaining Control in Media and Entertainment.

Each year, the AASU gives away many prominent awards at the conference including the prizes at the business plan competition, the scholarships for local students and the prestigious Bert King Award for Service and Professional Achievement. This year’s winner of the Bert King Service Award was HBS graduate Dwight Raiford for his role in founding the Harlem Little League which went on to galvanize the nation when they rose to compete in the Little League World Championships. The winner of the Professional Achievement Award was another HBS graduate, Henry McGee, President of HBO Home Video. Henry’s illustrious career includes work on such blockbusters as “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos”.

Putting together a conference of this magnitude is no small feat. Tonika Cheek-Clayton (OG) and Monique McCloud-Manley (OC), this year’s conference co-chairs, have been working with their planning team since the spring of 2003 to bring the event to life.

March 15, 2004
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