Last week, June 8-11, more than 450 attendees, including 132 HBCU students, came together in Orlando, Fla., for the National Urban League’s 42nd annual Black Executive Exchange Program (BEEP) Leadership Conference. BEEP, the National Urban League’s longest running direct service program, is a partnership involving the business community, government and non-profit institutions which places African-American executives in classrooms at more than 80 HBCU’s as visiting professors and role models. The idea behind the program is that by exposing Black college students to African-American executive role models and their real-world experiences, we can better prepare the next generation for effective corporate leadership. The program also provides a unique opportunity for professionals and corporations to give back to their communities while helping African-American college students achieve their goals.
The theme for this year’s conference was “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” With African-American unemployment at 16.2 percent and the jobless rate for Black teens approaching 40 percent, it is more important than ever to equip young people with the tools for 21st century jobs and effective leadership in whatever field they pursue. Our conference offered three days of workshops, discussions and networking to help HBCU students both sharpen their job search skills and succeed once they get in the door. Executives and students explored the different aspects of leadership, from communication to vision, from service to excellence and focused on the importance of developing the skills needed to be successful corporate executives.
One of the most inspirational speakers was Lucas Boyce, whose amazing story of rising from a life of hardship and poverty is chronicled in his new memoir, Living Proof: From Foster Care to the White House and the NBA. Boyce overcame tremendous odds to earn his degree from the University of Central Missouri, serve in the White House and become a major front-office executive with the Orlando Magic basketball team. In his comments at the conference and in his book, Boyce shared, “It is my earnest hope that everyone … will come away believing that no matter the circumstance, they, too, can prove that when hard work, determination and grace meet opportunity … anything can happen."
That is what BEEP is all about – giving young people who may come from challenging backgrounds the opportunity to dream big and achieve their goals. As I told those who attended the closing awards dinner, the participation of corporations and their executives in BEEP is an important way to beat back the jobs crisis, especially in urban America. The training, internships and jobs that result from this partnership are making a real difference in the lives of young people. BEEP is a great example of what America can achieve when we put politics aside and come together for the common good.
I want to express my gratitude to the Central Florida Urban League for co-hosting this year’s BEEP conference. And a special thanks to this year’s conference lead sponsors, UPS, Southwest Airlines and Unilever.
Marc Morial is the CEO and president of the National Urban League.