“What does it mean to be bold and powerful while balancing not wanting to be a threat, but also, not minimizing myself?”, posed Saunjah Brantley, a strategic change agent and coalition builder, at Unapologetically Black, a panel hosted by Juma in honor of Black History Month. Saunjah’s question on the nuances of boldness and taking up well-earned space while leaving room for other voices of color was a familiar quandary for many of the panelists.
Organized by Juma’s Black History Planning Committee, the panel hosted a prestigious line-up of Black thought leaders. In addition to Saunjah, the panel included Lulue Burton, manager of a Black owned coffee chain and member of Juma’s National Board of Directors, Derrick Dial, a former professional basketball player in the NBA and current teacher in Texas, Dr. Bryant Marks, Professor of Psychology at Morehouse College and former Senior Advisor for Whitehouse Initiatives on Historically Black Colleges and Universities for the Obama Administration, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, professional soccer player and Harvard Graduate, and Dr. Charles Lorenzo Pirtle II, a Principal currently leading a school in California’s central valley.
The panelists were also joined by Michael Smith, Executive Director of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. Michael kicked off the panel with stories from his time working with Former President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, on initiatives to build safe and supportive communities for boys and young men of color.
The panel touched on a variety of issues faced by Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC), giving Juma youth an opportunity to hear honest and frank perspectives from people who not only look like them, but also represent the achievements many Juma youth aspire to. Questions for the panel focused on topics like education, race, identity, activism, and goal setting for life and careers. While each panelist brought their own unique range of experiences to the conversation, a theme which consistently emerged was that every Black person defines their own experience of what it means to be Black, and that youth should see that as a strength. “What you are defines what Black is for you,” explained Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu. “Black is whatever you define it to be because you are Black.”
The panel also included an opportunity for Juma youth to chime in with their own questions. Brittany, a Juma Youth from Houston, had two–where could she seek out a mentor, and what advice did the panelists have for young people like her?
“Find your passion and find your purpose,” chimed in Dr. Pirtle. “Once you realize why you wake up in the morning, it gives you the energy and fuel to go after it with tenacity. It also gives you the persistence and determination to overcome the inherent roadblocks that will appear along the way.”
Saunjah, a passionate mentor herself, also let the audience know that she and Brittany were already chatting in a private message–Brittany had found her mentor.
The panel was closed out by Juma CEO Adriane Armstrong who finished with an important message of unity against injustice. “I don’t think you have to be Black to care that anti-Blackness is a fundamental issue for all of us,” shared Adriane.
While the movement to provide equitable opportunity for people of all racial and economic backgrounds continues, at Juma, we are grateful to be one small part of a community who recognizes the achievements and contributions of Black Americans and to resoundingly declare that Black lives do matter. We are also grateful to be playing a supporting role in the stories of many young people of color as they take their first steps into the working world and begin to pursue their dreams.