Black Professionals Summit bridges vital gap
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.bpsummit.org.
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.