Black History Month: Celebrating Representation At Stanford GSB

Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business

What kinds of initiatives and activities are you planning for Black History Month?

Davon Robertson: I can speak about the ones that I am personally planning. I will be leading a discussion on a Harvard Business School case study on the past causes of why Black people don’t have the power in today’s America – whether it be Jim Crow, segregation, the prison complex, and all the reasons exposed in the case. And then we’ll come back and talk about what are some things we can do to change some of that. I did it with our class last year, and I’m going to do it with the broader GSB this year.

We’re also organizing the Dream Big Lead Boldly conference which brings in Black students from different undergrad programs from across the nation. It demystifies the process of how to get an MBA, how to apply, and then also the different industries that traditionally recruit MBAs – such as tech, consulting, finance — and the different ways to break into those industries. That will come later this spring.

Meghan Hunter

Meghan Hunter

Megan Hunter: We are planning events around creating space for our community, and I think that doesn’t stop at Black History Month. We’ve been really surprised by the allyship, too, that’s come up around some of tentpole programming in this community. We’ve gotten invitations or requests to partner with the BBSA, and we have been trying to be thoughtful around how we do that. We love allyship, but during Black History Month, we are trying to have some purpose tied back to it. So how can we have an event be catered by someone who is Black or by a Black-owned caterer? How can we funnel resources to an organization that we want to rally behind this month?

Davon has also put together brown bag lunches, which are intimate conversations for students to connect with Black leaders from varied industries. We’re doing one with Jason Mayden, who is the president for Fear of God Athletics. He just has an incredible story from his work that he’s done at Jordan to starting his own shoe brand dedicated to inspiring youth to being their own superheroes. Now he is doing incredible work with Jerry Lorenzo at Fear of God Athletics, so it should be very exciting.

Considering the discourse surrounding race in this country, can you put in context why a group like the BBSA is important?

Megan Hunter: While having this idea of being color blind can sound well intentioned, I think what it is trying to get to is to say, “Of course. I see everyone as equal.” I think that there is still the question of what it means to exist in a society where you don’t get to make that choice for yourself. We’re still operating in society where many of the systems and structures and attitudes do not hold that view. And, frankly, I think it’s beautiful to embrace different cultures and perspectives and backgrounds. So I don’t think seeing everyone as one in the same is really getting to the point of celebrating equality and embracing what is behind people’s culture and where they come from.

I think some of the intention that we were trying to bring to the BBSA community, and what this space is really about, is celebrating that perspective. There’s a range of perspectives and identities and a beautiful complexity to being Black. I think it’s about just embracing that complexity, amplifying it, and celebrating it. These spaces are totally necessary, I think, for us to collectively commit to that within our group.
Davon Robertson: I think about it in terms of two buckets: There’s the problem of the discrimination we face now and discrimination that our families faced that has impacted our lives. (There is a study that says) that for me, my Harvard degree is worth the same as a UMass degree (for a white person.) Those are two very different universities and should have two very different powers. So that’s one demonstration that doesn’t allow Black men or women to get to the higher levels that they should.

Then, there are all the effects of discrimination in the past which is really wrapped up in capitalism, where, if you’re Black, you’re not going to have the resources, the tutoring, or the institutional capital from parents who have worked in business before that can help you along your journey. So to have a place like the BBSA where you can communicate with people who have similar stories to you is really powerful. It allows you to share information where maybe some people do have those stories and can share some education and knowledge within the group.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Davon Robertson

Davon Robertson

Davon Robertson: For me personally, it’s a time to reflect on my familial heritage. My great great grandfather was a slave, my great grandfather was sharecropper, my grandfather was a sharecropper, and my dad was a jail guard. Within those four generations, so many traumatic things have happened whether it be Jim Crow, segregation, discriminating housing loans, or the destruction of multiple Black Wall Streets.

But also, there’s so much to celebrate: The Civil Rights Movement with Rosa Parks, MLK and Malcom X. You have the intellectual contributions of W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin. To hold both of those and just reflect on them is really powerful and inspiring. It makes me want to create my own legacy in how I impact society in America.

Megan Hunter: For me, I think about it in terms of the words, “in spite of,” both as a sobering reflection but also as a celebration. You know, in spite of such deep adversity, challenges, and presumptions of inadequacy that Black people have faced across generations and cultural contexts, we have always found this prevailing resilience, hope, and vitality that has sustained our progress – including my ability to be at a Stanford GSB right now. I think that there’s so much to be celebrated in that, but I think there’s reflection that comes from that. What is my position or what’s my role to move things forward?

As my family has learned more about our ancestries – my great, great, great grand mother was one of the slaves on the last slave ships that came to the U.S. – I think it’s been interesting to see how my parents, especially my mom, has been almost excited to have this kind of understanding of our identity. But then I think that also comes with a sobering feeling, having a picture to point to, for the atrocities that our ancestors endured in this country. So, I think that this month, and again it doesn’t stop at this month, is a celebration of what we’ve been able to accomplish and the creativity that we’ve been able to engender and drive culture with. But I think there is a memorialization of all that’s been endured and sacrificed to get to this point.

How much does representation matter when it comes to seeing Black leaders in business and other spaces?

Davon Robertson: It’s extraordinary. For myself, to see Black people who have been successful, who have jumped the hurdles that you need to jump being a Black person in corporate America, is especially inspiring. For me to give back and give some knowledge to maybe an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) student or whoever, it’s tremendously rewarding to see them actually prosper and get the salaries that are higher than their parents. That’s how economic mobility is powerful and why it needs to continue to happen.
Having representation is very important because you need sponsors. You need mentors, and people to educate you throughout the path. So yes, representation is very important to me and something I constantly think about whenever I make my next move in my career,

Megan Hunter: I fully agree with Davon. I’ve always loved seeing people who look like me boldly taking up space at the table. A goal of my career is to be the same for others – being an advocate and a mentor for people. Having someone to reach out to that looks like you and understands where you’re coming from, makes a world of difference when you are trying to figure out whether there is a space for you. It helped me tremendously. I want to be that for others, and I want to see others in those positions to be that for someone else.

Next page: Profiles of BBSA students Maka Ngwenya and Tony Douglas, Jr.

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