Leaders of Today: Dartmouth @ BILBcon 2017


On Friday, November 10th, 13 Black Dartmouth students boarded the Coach and headed to the University of Pennsylvania. 12 hours later, with Harvard and Yale students in tow, we had arrived at the Black Ivy League Business Conference. We were tired and hungry but nonetheless anxious to start our weekend.

BILBcon, which launched just last year, is a two-day conference that provides an opportunity for young, high-achieving leaders to build networks with their Ivy League counterparts, learn about unconventional pathways to success in business (and in non-profits), and gain wisdom from experienced and powerful Black businessmen and women. Students had the chance to connect with representatives from Google, Morgan Stanley, and Oliver Wyman as well as local Black business entrepreneurs from Pennsylvania.

With over 100 students in attendance, it's clear that many jumped at the opportunity to spend a weekend making new friends across the League who shared the same visions. "My favorite part of the conference was being able to network with other Black Ivy League students because we don’t get to interact all together frequently," says Amara Gordon '19. Spread across the East Coast, and being particularly secluded in Hanover as Dartmouth students, there are few chances to meet other Black Ivy Leaguers outside of events like these.

The most important part of the two-day conference was arguably Saturday. The day was filled with talks, panels, breakout sessions, and speed networking events carefully designed to impact students across varied academic backgrounds and at different stages of their college careers. The event ended with the "Black Ivy Ball," a black-tie dinner formal where the National President of Jack and Jill of America, Joli Cooper-Nelson, spoke as the keynote for the event.

One of the highlights of the conference included hearing from Keenan Williams, one of the first speakers of the day. He's the co-founder and president of REZI, a rental company that uses technology and analytics to improve the rental experience for both landlords and tenants. In a high-energy and engaging lecture, we learned about how he has been able to disrupt the real estate/rental market by enabling tenants to instantly rent a listed apartment through an app on their phones. Williams disarmed the entire crowd by asking questions nobody could answer. "Come on, I'm in a room full of Ivy League students, nobody knows?" he challenged as we fell into a stumped silence following his question about the financial strategies of his company. Stripped of that characteristic Ivy League cockiness, the conference would start with us all on a level playing field. We still had so much to learn.

Keenan's biggest lesson: a high GPA is nice, but if you aren't constantly trying to apply what you've learned to some greater idea or project outside of the classroom, you will never be a disrupter in the real world. You have to be willing to put in work outside of your textbooks. Taking the extra step to do research on your own, or discover something new, is what separates the good from the excellent.

For Ayub Sharif '19, the most valuable part of the conference was realizing the importance of relationships. Almost every speaker that day talked about networking and the impact that relationships had on their business careers. "As high achieving individuals, we all want to leave a legacy of greatness. In order to get there, we must forge meaningful connections with individuals who have unique insights [to] help us realize our dreams and aspirations. Business is fundamentally rooted in relationships, helping individuals and organizations function most effectively."

The conference also shined a light on another important aspect of business– servant leadership and giving back.  Omar Woodward, the director of Greenlight Fund, gave us critical information about working in non-profits and choosing which to support. A panel of entrepreneurs talked to us about how they were supporting and impacting their communities with innovative business practices and ideas.

Along with the chance to meet other Black Ivy League students, Amara '19 also found the conference to be powerful in its lessons on incorporating elements of social impact into her career. The conference created a powerful dynamic between Black students, business leaders, and future employers that surely made a lasting impact on attendees. Merely witnessing Black men and women forging their own pathways to success can be critical for Black students who are studying, dreaming, and will likely go off to careers in spaces that are predominantly white.

Looking around and beholding the sheer talent and excellence that filled the conference room that weekend made me realize one thing: We are the world's leaders of today, we don't have to wait for tomorrow. BILBcon provided the perfect platform for remarkable, life-changing moments to occur. For some students, it might have been exactly the experience needed to propel them toward that groundbreaking idea or high-level career in business that they've been striving for. That Sunday afternoon after the conference had ended, we boarded the coach back to Hanover a little overwhelmed by the possibilities that our futures held and the final exams that were waiting for us upon return. But most importantly, we left the conference feeling inspired and invigorated, each of us ready for whatever opportunities and obstacles would come our way next.

Want to attend events like these in the future? Watch out for blitzes from the NAACP! In addition to BILBcon, they also coordinate the Black Solidarity Conference at Yale.