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Members of the BMA Conference student leadership include, from left: Danielle Robinson, Chereese Johnson, Lizette Williams, Fernando Harris, Lauren Patrick, Darryl Dove, Kailei Richardson, Antonio Jackson, Beth Clark, Akosua Asamoah, and Jamie Hanson (all '07 except Dove who is '08 and Hanson, conference fellow, who is NU undergraduate '08)

Black Management Association Conference celebrates 20 years

Annual three-day leadership event brings entrepreneurship and community focus to forefront

By Adrienne Murrill

4/12/2007 - What will be your legacy?

That’s the central question leaders of this year’s Kellogg Black Management Association Conference will challenge participants to answer during the April 20-22 event. The school’s oldest student-led conference celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with the theme “Embracing the Legacy, Harnessing the Future.”

The conference spirit and framework intends to reveal the importance of leveraging intellectual and economic resources to improve the community.

“This is about taking everything that we have gained thus far in life professionally, personally and from our education, and instead of thinking in terms of how can I get a good-paying job, we are expanding that perspective to ask, ‘How can I have an impact on my surroundings?’” said Danielle Robinson ’07, one of the conference co-chairs.

Robinson noted that the true value of her Kellogg School MBA involves using it to strengthen community, including by raising capital for community ventures or inspiring young people to pursue higher education.

“It’s about using what you’ve got, and deciding what is going to be your contribution going forward,” she said.

Robinson’s co-chair, Fernando Harris ’07, said this theme has been validated by the greater Chicago community, especially the Urban League’s announcement earlier this year to shift its focus toward economic empowerment. He said the challenge has moved beyond the creation of new small businesses to focus on how business owners can build “something with a larger influence, something that will be here long after they are gone.”

At the same time, Robinson and Harris are hoping that the work they have done for this year’s conference will leave a legacy that for future BMA conferences. Their efforts have included creating a logo for the event and adding a leadership position – the BMA conference fellow – that adds the talents of a Northwestern undergraduate student to the conference team. “Both Fernando and I have been really living this [conference] theme with planning the event,” Robinson said.

Other additions to this year’s schedule include an alumni golf outing on April 20. The student leaders also changed the traditional Saturday night dinner to a black tie gala event to celebrate the conference’s anniversary. In addition, students have formed a partnership with the Kellogg Christian Fellowship, which will perform at the Sunday morning gospel brunch at the James L. Allen Center.

Robinson said this year’s leadership team had big shoes to fill for the anniversary of a long-running and popular conference, which once again has attracted exceptional interest. “We spent a lot of time deciding what topics would get people to come out and celebrate with us and ways that we could rally the alumni to come back.”

She added that this year’s conference theme highlights the path that Kellogg School alumni have blazed for current BMA students. “We have some dynamic alumni … and this is a celebration of the things they have done and where they are going.” Robinson said the Kellogg BMA alumni remain very involved, including in the school’s recruiting process. “They are extremely influential in shaping the perspective of Kellogg from a standpoint that considers the BMA,” she said. “Kellogg is a family, and the BMA is a family within that. [This support] is important when you’re choosing a business school, and from the minute you are considering Kellogg they are around.”

This year’s co-chairs tapped the school’s robust alumni network to establish the conference’s panelists, moderators and keynote speakers, who will include Cheryl Mayberry McKissack ’89, president and CEO of Nia Enterprises; Robin Brooks ’79, chairman and CEO of Brooks Food Group Inc.; and James Reynolds Jr. ’82, chairman and CEO of Loop Capital Markets. Harris said these alumni in particular exemplify this year’s theme because they have created successful companies designed to outlast their creators.

They also share an entrepreneurial spirit, Robinson said, and are examples of what Kellogg Professor Steven Rogers calls “high-growth entrepreneurs,” business people who focus on long-term success.

Harris said Professor Rogers, an entrepreneurship scholar and director of the Kellogg School’s Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice, has been instrumental to the BMA conference over the years. In particular, he has leant his insights and support to the event’s 20th anniversary, helping to bolster the conference.

To register online, or for more information about the April 20-22 BMA Conference, go to