The Office of Advancement hosted the inaugural biennial Black Alumni Summit from Friday to Sunday, in which more than 230 alumni gathered for three days of social activities, networking events and panel discussions on Georgetown’s continued influence on their personal and professional lives.
The participants included alumni from around 40 graduating classes in a range of different professions, with alumni networking events open to current black students.
The summit was a joint effort between a network of black alumni and the Office of Advancement. The Office of the President, the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access and the Georgetown Alumni Association also assisted with planning the event.
Eric Woods (GSB ’91), who served as co-chair of the summit’s planning committee, said the event demonstrated the mutually beneficial nature of the relationship between black alumni and the university.
“I think it serves the administration to understand that this community is engaged, does care and will stand up when asked. I think what it will do is create more symbiosis going forward between [black alumni and the university],” Woods said.
University President John J. DeGioia, who spoke at two keynote addresses Friday and Saturday, also said that the summit was significant in maintaining relations between black alumni and the university.
“I am deeply grateful to our alumni who attended this weekend’s events and all those who helped to spearhead this important and unprecedented effort to celebrate our African American alumni community,” DeGioia wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Several alumni members, including Tammee Thompson (CAS ’91), began discussing the possibility of a reunion for black alumni in 2013. Thompson approached Chief of Staff to the Office of Advancement Ben Shaw with the idea after she attended the Black Alumni Summit at Stanford University, where she received her masters in business administration.
Shaw said that the Office of Advancement found the summit to be an effective way for the alumni to plan programming according to their own needs.
“You’re going to be more successful when you allow alumni to organize and connect with the university in ways that they want to … as opposed to in the ways that are the most convenient to the university,” Shaw said.
Over the next year and a half, Thompson and Woods, who served as the co-chairs of the summit planning committee, led a group of around 50 alumni who helped with the event’s programming and outreach efforts.
The Office of Advancement also provided assistance in booking locations on campus and connecting the committee with resources. Most of the events took place in the Rafik B. Hariri Building.
The summit kicked off Friday morning with a keynote luncheon featuring DeGioia and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (SFS ’92), who also serves on the university’s board of directors.
Throughout the three days, panelists discussed a range of career fields including sports and entertainment.
The summit also included a panel discussion with Conan Louis (SLL ’73), who was one of around 30 black students at Georgetown when he initially arrived at the university.
According to Woods, Louis recounted that only eight of the black students eventually graduated, as many felt uncomfortable at the university and dropped out.
Woods said that he found Louis’ experience relevant to the summit’s goal of supporting black students from matriculation through to graduation.
“I think we take for granted that only a short time before us, things were drastically different,” Woods said. “One of the takeaways from the summit is to make sure that we help students matriculate into Georgetown, that we do what we can to help them finish at Georgetown and finish strongly.”
In 2008, Georgetown placed fifth place in Black Enterprise’s ranking of Top 50 Colleges for African Americans. This past application cycle, nine percent of admitted students were black.
CMEA Director Charlene Brown-McKenzie said that she found the discussions at the summit to be profound.
“I attended several panels and I was struck by the depth of conversation and the impressive resume of those assembled,” Brown-McKenzie wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Students also participated in alumni networking events. Shaw said that the networking events were good opportunities for students to connect with a large number of alumni.
“Students had the opportunity to connect with black alumni from various career fields, ask for advice and just listen to their stories and experiences. I think that connections like that, they are going to persist beyond the summit,” Shaw said.
Oyetola Oyeyemi (SFS ’16), who was one of the three student panelists at the summit, participated in a panel entitled “The Black Experience on the Hilltop.” She was invited to join the panel during the summer by her Georgetown Scholarship Program faculty mentor, who works at the Office of Advancement.
Oyeyemi said that she enjoyed being able to connect with multiple alumni at a networking event following the panel.
“This was very significant for me because I am not the biggest fan of networking events, and I’m usually pretty shy, but the alumni at the networking session made me feel pretty comfortable, which is something I’ve never felt at a networking session at Georgetown before,” Oyeyemi wrote in an email to The Hoya.
According to Woods, the summit will convene every other year. Woods said that while the committee has not begun planning for the next summit, he is optimistic that the next summit will grow in size and scope after receiving many positive comments from attendees this year.
“I’m very happy that people who came left in anticipation of seeing each other again and coming back to the school,” Woods said. “Our thought, as a committee and as the co-chair … is that this is something that people want to happen again.”
Shaw said that the Office of Advancement will also consider proposals from other alumni groups to host similar events.
“If another group of alumni came forward with a similar plan and was willing to work with us, we would absolutely be open to that,” Shaw said.
Above all, Shaw said that the summit achieved its purpose of reconnecting alumni with the university community.
“This isn’t just about figuring out ways to raise more money for Georgetown,” Shaw said. “This is about figuring how to get our alumni connected to the student experience and make sure that our students know that our alumni are resources.”
Correction: A previous version of this article wrongly identified a person in the photo. President DeGioia is conversing with Rep. Stacy Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) (SFS ’88).