‘Reflection, Reverence & Reinvigoration’: How One Elite Business School Celebrates Black History Month

'Reflection, Reverence & Reinvigoration': How One Elite Business School Celebrates Black History Month

Northwestern Kellogg MBA student Keyaira Lock: February is “when I feel we collectively have the most pride to be Black.”

Black History Month at Kellogg: “A Month For Reflection, Reverence, and Reinvigoration”

February 1 marks the first day of Black History Month – a month meant to amplify Black voices, celebrate Black contributions, and shed light on the work that needs to be done to create a more equitable society.

At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, this month is widely celebrated through the efforts of the student Black Management Association. “Black History Month isn’t just for Black people. It’s for everybody,” says Kellogg student Keyaira Lock, BMA co-president. “One of my favorite things to do is to celebrate Black people and Black culture. We have to be intentional about how we create safe spaces for our community, as well as how we can welcome others to celebrate with us.”

Poets&Quants sat down with Lock, Anas Jibrin, and Tamar Smithers, three Kellogg students from their respective full-time, evening and weekend, and executive MBA programs – to learn about what this month means to them and their experience as part of Kellogg’s Black student community.


Last year, Lock, then BMA Black History Month chair, helped create the month’s theme: “The Black Effect,” inspired by the Black community’s ability to transform adversity into creativity. “We took the month to celebrate the Black Effect within our ranks by encouraging those to acknowledge the Black Effect, inspire those to activate their Black Effect, and celebrate those who embody the Black Effect,” she says.

This year, inspired by the popular HBO show created by Issa Rae, Insecure, the theme is “Secure” — with a focus on celebrating those who’ve secured the confidence to do something that’s never been done before – shedding light on the journey it took to get to that place of inner security and outer achievement.

Among the events designed to showcase the accomplishments of Kellogg’s Black community are a Black feminism event titled “SECURE The Throne: Beyonce and Black Feminism,” in collaboration with the Women’s Business Association and the Media & Entertainment Club. Additionally, the BMA is bringing in guest speakers like Monique Rodriguez, founder of Mielle Organics, which was recently acquired by Procter & Gamble, for a “SECURE The Bag” series to bring awareness to the growth and exits of successful Black businesses.

The club will close out February with a “SECURE The Arts Block Party,” featuring performances, vendors, and talent celebrating Black culture. The entire Kellogg community is invited.


'Reflection, Reverence & Reinvigoration': How One Elite Business School Celebrates Black History Month

Tamar Smithers: Kellogg’s full-time MBA is “one of the most culturally diverse programs I’ve ever been a part of”

To Tamar Smithers, Black History Month isn’t a singular event; it’s something she celebrates every day of the year.

Coming from more than 15 years in the nonprofit sector, Smithers joined Kellogg’s Executive MBA in August 2022. Like Lock, she believes this month is for all cultures and backgrounds to learn about – and celebrate – the contributions that African Americans have given this country. “There’s definitely a greater sense of pride and significance for me as a Black Woman during this month,” says Smithers. “I feel that it’s a month for reflection, reverence, and reinvigoration.”

As the executive director for the Virginia African American Cultural Center in Virginia Beach, which she describes as her dream role, Smithers was eager to strengthen her business acumen. The first day of classes, she was blown away by the diversity of the student body – on all levels. “It’s one of the most culturally diverse programs I’ve ever been a part of. I’m so glad that I made Kellogg my choice – and that Kellogg chose me,” Smithers shares.

Although she was afraid that she wouldn’t be accepted, valued, or respected by her classmates from more traditional business backgrounds, she had the opposite experience. Instead, she received validation from her cohort that she was indeed supposed to be there. “Kellogg truly embodies their high impact, low ego perspective, and I’m beyond humbled and inspired to take on that mantra for life.”


As senior analyst for corporate and digital strategy at Northern Trust, local Chicagoan Anas Jibrin wanted to broaden his management skills. Despite only being three weeks into his evening and weekend MBA program, he feels that the program offers the perfect opportunity to apply his classroom learnings directly to the workplace, helping him to become a more well-rounded business leader.

Born in Nigeria, Jibrin has lived in the United States for the past 20 years. He was drawn to Kellogg for its community of people who want to make a difference and leave the world better than they found it. For him, Black History Month is about gratitude, pride, and reflecting on his ancestors’ rich, vibrant traditions. “It’s an opportunity to reflect on the resilience of our people, and how we’ve still thrived in the face of adversity,” he explains. “This is something that we still face today; whether it’s systemic oppression or unconscious bias, there are things that have not held us back because we continue to thrive in the face of it all.”

It’s also about hope, Jibrin says. “In celebrating the accomplishments and successes of notable Black figures, it’s a testament of what’s achievable,” he adds.


'Reflection, Reverence & Reinvigoration': How One Elite Business School Celebrates Black History Month

Anas Jibrin: “We all speak differently. We all illustrate points differently. But at the end of the day, we’re all here to learn from each other”

Lock, who will graduate from Kellogg’s full-time MBA program this spring, is on a mission to use her career to promote cultural equity. As a self-identified “Culture Queen,” she is committed to leveraging her Kellogg education to thoughtfully address the unmet needs of historically underrepresented communities in order to showcase how worthy they are of feeling seen, heard, and valued.

Following nearly five years in brand strategy at Twitter – where she worked with brands wanting to connect with Black and Brown communities in authentic ways – she decided that an MBA would be the next step to elevating her storytelling career. “I needed to make sure that I was going to a place where my voice would be amplified,” recounts Lock. “It was very clear to me that Kellogg was going to be a place in which I could thrive.”

For Lock, Black History month is her favorite month of the year. “It’s when I feel we collectively have the most pride to be Black,” she says.

While at Kellogg, she began developing a Cultural Intelligence Toolkit to equip brands with the tools to effectively build culturally diverse teams, launch culturally intelligent products and services, and engage marginalized communities. Since beginning her Kellogg journey in 2021, she’s transformed her original toolkit and shifted its target market to the medical psychedelics industry. “As a Kellogg Zell Fellow, I created my psychedelic vision in alignment with my cultural equity values, allowing me to move into a white male dominated space where I can have the kind of impact that would make my ancestors proud,” she shares.


Smithers says the Black Management Association provides a resource for Black students to come together and support each other – not only for Black students, but for other communities to learn about and celebrate Black culture.

When Lock joined the Black Management Association, she said it “immediately felt like family.” In fact, building this family-like community is one of the goals of the BMA. “A lot of things that we do are focused on amplifying our BMA families, which we incentivize through points to build community,” she says. “We look out and take care of each other.”

The BMA offers interview prep groups, alumni engagement opportunities, academic support, study groups, resources, and allyship. “Allyship is throughout everything that we do,” explains Lock. “We want to make sure that we have safe spaces for Black folks, as well as collaborative events with different clubs and communities. We want to not only amplify what we’re doing, but what others are doing, and how we work together.”

Prior to applying to Kellogg, Jibrin spoke to several alumni members – who were members of Kellogg’s Black Management Association – and learned about the school’s Black student community. “Something someone said and that I’ve found to be true so far, is that you can be yourself here and everyone will respect that,” he says. “We all speak differently. We all illustrate points differently. But at the end of the day, we’re all here to learn from each other.”


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