Last Saturday, the African American MBA Association (AAMBAA) hosted the 33rd Annual DuSable Conference at the University Club of Chicago. The conference was AAMBAA’s flagship event and brought together Booth students, alumni and colleagues from across the city of Chicago for robust conversation and powerful networking opportunities on professionally and culturally relevant topics.
The DuSable Conference was started in 1985 by African-American students who believed that as an elite global institution, the University of Chicago needed a conference that leveraged the experiences of people of color. Inspired by his spirit of exploration, innovation, and leadership, these students organized their first conference and named it after Jean-Baptiste Point du Sable, the Haitian pioneer credited with founding modern day Chicago. For 20 years, du Sable operated an elaborate fur-trading post, establishing the city as a vital commercial center in the new world. His home was the location of the city's first recorded birth, first formalized wedding, first election, and court session.
Today, the DuSable Conference remains as one of the longest running student-led conferences at Chicago Booth. Previous conferences had prominent speakers such as the Honorable Harold Washington, Jesse Jackson, John Rogers, James Bell, Martin Nesbitt, and many more.
This year’s DuSable Conference’s theme was Building Community and Prosperity, and centered on uplifting the community while pursuing prosperity in the ever-changing economic and social climate.
I was excited to hear from former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Mr. Duncan currently serves as a Managing Partner at Emerson Collective, an organization dedicated to removing barriers to opportunity so people can live to their full potential. Emerson’s work is centered on education, immigration reform, the environment, health, and other social justice initiatives. He spoke a lot about work at Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny) that he’s “just trying to give these guys a reason to put down the guns.” CRED works to reduce gun violence by providing work opportunities. P
The speaker that resonated with me most was Symeria Hudson. Ms. Hudson is a former member of the Executive Committee, President of Global Franchises and Innovation for ConvaTec, PLC, FTSE 100 company based in London, England. In her role, she led Global Marketing, Research & Development and Commercial Operations across three of the company’s four business segments. My classmate, Channing Miller, moderated the fire-side chat where Ms. Hudson who spoke about her experience as an African American women at the executive level. The two women, both people of color, also discussed the concept of “covering” which is to tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream. Throughout her career, this accomplished and experienced woman had to endure awkward and misguided comments from colleagues who questioned her abilities. Ms. Hudson spoke about how there were many times when she “was the only one” meaning she was the only woman and the only black executive in the board room.
I believe the DuSable Conference and events like it are especially helpful to underrepresented communities. Hearing from accomplished businessmen and businesswomen who share commonalities is aspiring and encouraging. It is also a reminder that we are not alone and there’s a community to lend support.