Black Pro­fes­sion­als Sum­mit bridges vi­tal gap

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By ISHEKA N. HAR­RI­SON ihar­ri­

NORTH MI­AMI, Fla. – In 2014, when Ke-nasha Paul was pres­i­dent of Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity’s (FIU) Black Alumni Net­work, she no­ticed some­thing. Though South Florida was teem­ing with gifted black pro­fes­sion­als, many op­er­ated in si­los. She wanted to change that.

She cre­ated the Black Pro­fes­sion­als Sum­mit (BPS) to help mit­i­gate the is­sue and equip black lead­ers with the tools they needed to pos­i­tively impact their or­ga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­ni­ties, while also mak­ing price­less con­nec­tions with one an­other.

“We wanted to be able to do pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment. We wanted to bring dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries to­gether in one space and have black pro­fes­sion­als bond while learn­ing and build­ing stronger net­works and con­nec­tions," Paul told the South

Florida Times in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view. Paul said when FIU learned of her vi­sion they were im­me­di­ately sup­port­ive and be­came the first spon­sors of the con­fer­ence, which has drawn a large crowd since its in­cep­tion.

“Over the years we had re­ally great suc­cess. Mi­ami is still con­sid­ered a party mar­ket so when we had 150 peo­ple at­tend our first year ev­ery­body was sur­prised be­cause some­times you can barely get 20 peo­ple to come to a work­shop,” Paul said.

She also cred­its part­ner­ships with help­ing them be suc­cess­ful. “We were able to lever­age other pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tions in South Florida at the time to not only uti­lize the con­fer­ence as a re­cruit­ment tool for build­ing out their pro­fes­sional boards, but it gave an op­por­tu­nity for speak­ers in the com­mu­nity to re­ally el­e­vate them­selves if they were very knowl­edge­able about a given topic,” Paul said.

Fast for­ward to now and hun­dreds of at­ten­dees later; Paul and her team are pre­par­ing for the Fourth An­nual Black Pro­fes­sion­als Sum­mit tak­ing place Oct. 14 at FIU Kovens Con­fer­ence Cen­ter, 3000 NE 151 St. in North Mi­ami.

This year’s theme is “Own Your Voice: Lev­er­ag­ing Your Au­then­tic Self" and the speak­ers list reads like a “Who’s Who of South Florida” di­rec­tory.

Pow­er­houses like Michael A. Fin­ney, Pres­i­dent and CEO of Mi­ami-Dade Bea­con Coun­cil; Fele­cia Hatcher, Co-Founder and CEO of Code Fever and Black Tech Week; Rus­sell Ben­ford, Deputy Mayor of Mi­ami-Dade County; Bran­don Ok­palobi, Founder and Pres­i­dent of Dibia Athletics and Dibia DREAM; Mario Bailey, Se­nior Gov­ern­ment Re­la­tions Con­sul­tant at Becker & Po­li­akoff, P.A.; Michael Hall, Owner and Se­nior Manag­ing Part­ner of Medi­umFour; Josh Jones, At­tor­ney and Founder of Josh Jones Law; Juana Bethel, Owner and CEO of Jali Creatives; Starex Smith, Founder and CEO of The Hun­gry Black Man; Dale Holness, Broward County Com­mis­sioner; Cedric McMinn, Com­mu­nity Outreach Direc­tor for Mi­ami Dade County Public School Board, District 2 and State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Can­di­date; Valencia Gun­der, Com­mu­nity Ad­vo­cate; and more will serve as speak­ers, mod­er­a­tors and panel guests.

Nona C. Jones – an award-win­ning Strate­gic Part­ner Man­ager of Com­mu­ni­ties for Face­book with years of cross-sec­tor ex­pe­ri­ence in pri­vate in­dus­try, so­cial en­ter­prise and gov­ern­ment – will serve as the key­note speaker. Top­ics in­clude: Lev­er­ag­ing Re­la­tion­ships and Op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Work­place; Busi­ness Build­ing on a Bud­get; How Sto­ry­telling Can Drive Your Bot­tom Line; Learn­ing the ABCs of the Real Es­tate Buy­ing Process; Eco­nomics of Politics and Ad­vo­cacy; Lead­ing Up: Lev­er­ag­ing In­flu­ence With­out Be­ing In Charge; Art. The Bil­lion Dol­lar In­dus­try; Mak­ing Money Sense Out of Your Loan Debt; Eat Your Way Fit: Look Bad and Eat Bou­jee; and How to make your next move your best move to power up in your pro­fes­sional goals, among oth­ers.

Paul said they de­ter­mine what top­ics to cover each year based on feed­back. “We do a lot of anec­do­tal feed­back and host dif­fer­ent events through­out the year through other or­ga­ni­za­tions we part­ner with and we use that feed­back to shape what will be the top­ics. The de­sire is there and peo­ple see the value in how we were do­ing it,” Paul said.

One way they are “do­ing it,” is by be­ing re­ally strate­gic and keep­ing in mind they serve mul­ti­ple au­di­ences, Paul said. “There are a lot of mov­ing parts. We have pro­fes­sion­als, speak­ers, spon­sors and we have to make sure each of them find value in the con­fer­ence,” Paul said. “Ul­ti­mately, we want as­pir­ing, emerg­ing and ex­celling black pro­fes­sion­als to come to­gether and learn.”

Paul said they also make sure they don’t sug­ar­coat is­sues and play to speak­ers’ strengths. “The con­ver­sa­tions are very can­did and very trans­par­ent. They dis­pel a lot of myths and give speak­ers an op­por­tu­nity to speak to an au­di­ence they prob­a­bly wouldn’t nor­mally have a chance to get in front of,” Paul said.

For this year’s con­fer­ence, al­most 100 peo­ple have pre-reg­is­tered to at­tend and she is ex­cited about the con­tin­ued growth over the years.

“The con­fer­ence has grown be­cause we’ve added pre­sen­ta­tions, added more mean­ing­ful pan­els, the ses­sions are im­pact­ful and peo­ple walk away with tan­gi­ble so­lu­tions to ap­ply to their ca­reer and per­sonal as­pi­ra­tions,” Paul said.

Since the con­fer­ence re­vealed so many needs, Paul and her team be­gan the Black Pro­fes­sion­als Net­work, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that ex­pands the sum­mit’s work.

“One day, or even a week­end con­fer­ence, can’t cre­ate the impact that we need.The net­work does the long, tough work of ex­pound­ing and adding more depth to what was cul­ti­vated at the con­fer­ence year-round,” Paul said. Ac­cord­ing to Paul, the net­work strives to be an ef­fec­tive mis­sion-based or­ga­ni­za­tion that ad­dresses con­cerns of stu­dents as­pir­ing to be­come pro­fes­sion­als, en­try level pro­fes­sion­als, es­tab­lished pro­fes­sion­als, man­agers and ex­ec­u­tives. “Last year, we learned we didn’t want to do any­thing too fo­cused on en­trepreneurs and black busi­nesses in our con­fer­ence be­cause those are re­ally im­por­tant top­ics, how­ever, our re­search shows us busi­nesses are scaled by the work­force, so if you don’t have an em­ploy­able work­force your busi­ness can’t grow,” Paul said. “You can be a great en­tre­pre­neur that gets all the cap­i­tal you want, but if you don’t have the staff , you don’t have the peo­ple that are go­ing to bring your vi­sion to life, you’re go­ing to be stag­nant. There are so many pro­grams that al­ready fo­cus on black busi­nesses and en­trepreneurs, but there’s noth­ing that tells a pro­fes­sional how to ne­go­ti­ate your salary, han­dle con­flict res­o­lu­tion or things like that. We’re try­ing to bridge that gap.”

The con­fer­ence be­gins at 8:30 a.m. and is an all day event. For more in­for­ma­tion or to pur­chase tick­ets, visit www.bp­sum­


Ke­nasha Paul, cen­ter, and other black pro­fes­sion­als from South Florida cre­ated the Black Pro­fes­sion­als Sum­mit to fo­cus on more in-depth pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment.


A pan­elist speaks to at­ten­dees dur­ing last year's Black Pro­fes­sion­als Sum­mit.

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