This past weekend, Arlington Virginia was the home to the second annual Black Alumni Networking Expo, a new and flourishing company geared to young professionals with the sole purpose of brining others together to build connections for business and career purposes.
The three founders of The Network DC, Jerrett Walker, Jonathan King, and M. Carson Byrd, birthed the Black Alumni Networking Expo just last year.
The event boasts to have reached seven thousand young professional adults in 2014 wanting to foster an environment where professionals can meet and become well acquainted.
We want to redefine the nerd because there is an entire community of black people who are well educated, who are doing very well professionally, but who are also fun.
The Black Alumni Networking Expo, or for short, the BanExpo, consisted of a list of forward thinking panels and presentations, and also a networking tradeshow and a vendor fair giving businesses a chance to connect with potential clients. In an exclusive interview, HBCU Buzz got the opportunity to sit down with vendors’ Cool. Black. Nerd, a brand that aims to “redefine” people’s perception of the word nerd and to celebrate in Black Culture, and The Cultured Savage, a premiere clothing company responsible for the successful “Blacker the College, Sweeter the Knowledge,” as well as “HBCUs VS Everybody” apparel—both companies have a unique and positive and profound message targeted towards Black Americans.
“We want to redefine the nerd because there is an entire community of black people who are well educated, who are doing very well professionally, but who are also fun,” says Brittini R. Brown, co-founder of Cool.Black.Nerd., and also a graduate student at Purdue University. According to Brown, the idea was birthed through an online chatting medium with her best friend and co-founder Kristen Monroe. Brown says she had replied to a “nerdy” comment with the hashtag “coolblacknerd,” and, as they say, the rest is history.
Presently the company sells shirts with their logo to intrigue interest and awareness of their goal to create an environment in which one can be exactly what the innovative logo reads: “Cool. Black. Nerd.”! As far as long term goals, Brown says she hopes to take the company into the local school systems, “For African American children who are smart, it can be really hard because of the bullying, so we really want to encourage them…we want to create a community where they can be celebrated,” Brown says.
Owner and founder of The Cultured Savage, Alfred T. Brenton Wood, sought out a booth at the expo as a means to sell his well demanded attire. The Winston-Salem State University graduate says he had the idea during his college years, “I wanted to do a clothing line that spoke to black people, to express a positive message,” crediting his experiences at his respected HBCU for his bubbling business. He says that his clothing line raises black awareness through a retro, 90s “cool to be black” vibe: “I knew it was going to be a great opportunity,” says Wood. When asked his thoughts on the Expo, Wood says he looks forward to the next one and believes that “it helps us to provide a community for ourselves. I’ll be at any other event that they put together.”
I wanted to do a clothing line that spoke to black people, to express a positive message.
Holding a very distinct and business appropriate feel, the event allowed various speakers to take the stage and talk about their own businesses and positions. The presenters included relationship coach Julie Wadley, McAdam Financial representatives Adrian Vaughn and Jeffery G Van Slicen, and also Associate Senior Dean of Student Dr. Vernon Hurte, and Dr. Ivory Toldson, the Deputy Director for the White House Initiative on HBCUs, served as the keynote speaker of the event.
A portion of the exposition that struck well with guests was the panel discussion entitled “B.L.A.C.K,” which stands for Building Longevity and Captivating Knowledge. The panel was specifically designed to speak on philanthropic, economic, and social issues in the black community, and it discussed race relations, generational differences, business advice, and much more. The audience ultimately walked away with an understanding on other people’s perspectives, and possibly new ways to critically approach everyday occurrences in society.
Though the BAN Expo ended in the late evening, this year the first annual Black Alumni Ball was added to the event. Complete with upscale decorum, a live band, a DJ, and of course a slew well-dressed attendees, the Ball appeared to be a major success.
The Buzz also got the chance to sit down with one of the three founders of The Network DC, M. Carson Byrd, who specializes in marketing coordinating for the company, and is also a Hampton University graduate. Byrd says that the idea came from a realization that Black American Alumni, while very successful, weren’t “well interconnected with one another.”
“The biggest thing we lack in the black community is an integrated way of business development,” says Byrd, who added that that’s when he, Walker, and King began reaching out to businesses and vendors to make the idea come into fruition: “All like-minded, all have the same identity, same passion, same goals; but we didn’t even know we existed. So we just wanted to bring them out to the forefront,” says Byrd.
Byrd stated that the expo gives alumni from HBCUs and PWIs alike an opportunity to be in the same room to learn and enjoy each other on a professional level. Though the event is open to all, Byrd also states that the event raises money for HBCUs to assist in keeping them prevalent, “HBCUs are vital because they are a part of our fabric as being African Americans.”
When asked what we’re to expect of next year’s installment of the BanExpo, Byrd said one word: “Breathtaking.”
Sonia Montalvo the Entertainment Editor at HBCU Buzz. Follow her on Twitter.