Collegiate Business Association host minority professional development conference

Michael Lopick

Ebony Jackson, a recent Kent State graduate who works for GE Capital, remembers her reaction after hearing that her African-American friend was denied a job with the company.

“I’m the only African-American female in an entire office of almost 200,” she said, “when I found out she didn’t get the job and that the feedback the company gave her was she ‘wouldn’t fit into the culture,’ I immediately thought ‘Oh, they already have a black female, so there’s no need for another.’”

During a conference Saturday hosted by the Collegiate Business Association, Kent State Alumni gave real world advice to minority students hoping to enter corporate America after graduation about potential challenges they may face and how to overcome them.

The Collegiate Business Association, or CBA, is a minority professional development organization dedicated to advancing the professional careers of Kent State’s underrepresented students.

Conference sessions covered topics such as personal branding, LinkedIn and business lunch etiquette, ending with “Real Talk: Racial Minority Working in Corporate.”

During the “Real Talk” session, students talked with CBA alumni about the struggles minorities face while applying and working for a corporation.

Garmai Korto-Matthew, brand editor for Uhuru magazine, asked a question on many of the students’ minds: Does appearance affect their work life?

Stephen Parish, former CBA president,  wanted students to know that professional dress and hygiene is important, but a professional and confident manner matters even more.

“I don’t condone going and getting a thousand tattoos or keeping dreads if you expect to be taken seriously in a corporate atmosphere,” he said, “but your personality is what truly matters. For my current position I was interviewed over the phone. When I walked in the first day I could’ve looked any type of way, but my demeanor assured them I was the right choice.”

Another hot topic discussed was the use of racial humor in the workplace and how to respond.

Daejah Alexander, also a former CBA officer, said common offensive statements she hears in the office is a co-worker saying “I’m not trying to be racist, but…” or referring to African-American peers as “that black guy.”

“As long as it’s not directed at me, I don’t let it affect me,” Alexander said. “I’m there to do my job, get my check and advance up the ladder. I would never want to compromise that by trying to right every wrong I hear.”

Parish also shared his advice on how students should react in that situation.

“Don’t go with your initial reaction,” he said, “there’s a way you can go about letting someone know they’ve offended you tactfully. You don’t know where they came from, their background or if it was deemed acceptable in another situation.”

Korto-Matthew was inspired to someday fill the shoes of the alumni at the conference.

“It was awesome, overall,” she said. “I have friends on the panel and to see them be an example of what can come from CBA and our hard work — it inspires me to want to contribute and someday be in that seat giving advice to students like me.”

Mamadou Ndiaye, president of CBA and organizer of the conference, said that even though at times it was challenging to create the conference, the end result was well worth it.

“It was great seeing everything come together in the end even with tight time constraints,” he said. “It was inspiring to see these alumni who were my personal CBA mentors come give their experiences. It meant more to me than I can express.”

Contact Michael Lopick at [email protected].