When DeAndre Jones entered the Evening MBA program at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business in 2015, he already had a lot on his plate. Jones was transferring from one consulting firm to another, taking 12 hours of classes a week, and planning his wedding with his now-wife. On top of all of that, Jones was trying to process the then-recent killings of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin. His desire for a safe space to communicate his feelings led to him taking action and creating that space himself.
“Blacks in Business started off with myself, Will Carrouthers, and Mark Sandidge, right when I started the Evening MBA program,” said Jones. “Going back to that time, there really wasn’t a safe space to talk about how you were feeling, especially with the killings of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin. I didn’t feel like there was a place where we could come together and be able to express our emotions with other like-minded individuals. We took it up to the administration and told them that we wanted to start this organization, and they said ‘Yes, let’s do it’ and offered their full support. From there, we made it happen.”
After Jones, Carrouthers, and Sandidge began their initial conversations about starting Blacks in Business, they approached fellow Scheller Evening MBA students about potentially serving on the inaugural board. Arianna Robinson was one of those students. In addition to being an Evening MBA student, Robinson was also a staff member at Scheller where she was already advising another student organization at the time, so she felt it would be best to contribute in an advisor role to this newly forming organization as well. As a student, she felt connected to the need for the organization.
Blacks in Business (BiB) & GT Black Alumni Organization (GTBAO) hold a joint First Fridays event in Spring 2017
“Blacks in Business is very important to me,” said Robinson. “There are not many students of color in the program and it can sometimes feel alienating to be the only person in your class, especially when issues arise in the classroom. It can be tiring to be expected to represent an entire group of people in that way. This club gives us a safe space to share experiences and in some cases lend support to act on egregious behavior.”
Robinson is currently the assistant director of business operations for the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business and is still involved in the club today as an advisor. Jones also plays a role, connecting with each new president, answering any questions they may have, and providing support. He also connects with incoming students, since alumni support and participation in the club is extremely important. Current president and second-year Full-time MBA student Kristen Brinson thoroughly appreciates Jones and the support of other alumni.
“The club is still pretty new in the grand scheme of Scheller,” said Brinson. “I think it’s really cool to know the founders of this organization and to be able to interact with them. Alumni are really important to this club because we have a really small population of Black students and students of color at Scheller. We are a small MBA program anyway, and the percentage of us is small as well.”
Brinson got involved with Blacks in Business right away when she arrived at Scheller. For Brinson, Blacks in Business provides a place for her to feel comfortable and make connections with her peers that may have similar experiences.
“For me, joining the club meant finding a community,” said Brinson. “The goal of Blacks in Business is to make sure you’re comfortable in your business school setting and that you will be comfortable in the workplace once you graduate. We want you to feel like you can go into any type of setting - personal, professional, or volunteer - and lead, be strong, and feel good about your place. It’s a great opportunity to gain value and comfort around people who are pushing themselves and who have a lot of goals, but also see the other side - enjoying each other and having a lot of fun together.”
The inaugural Blacks in Business Board receives their “bibs” marking the success of the organization’s first year.
One event that has carried on since the club’s inception is a panel discussion prior to the National Black MBA Conference. The club invites alumni and one current student to participate in a panel, discussing experiences with the conference and what it’s like from a recruiter’s perspective. Other recurring events include an annual cookoff held during the Scheller diversity open house weekend each Fall and Trivia Night for the Culture, held each Spring during Black History Month. Another event series is First Fridays, a once a month opportunity where club members can relax, express their feelings, and give allies an opportunity to ask questions to further understand their peers. These opportunities, along with other club events and panels, provide Blacks in Business members with the opportunity to come out feeling more prepared and empowered for the future.
The racial injustice that helped fuel the desire to launch the organization is still very much filling headlines five years later. As Blacks in Business continues to unite students of color and allies, educate and advocate for the issues that Blacks face in business, and celebrate the rich history and culture of people of the African Diaspora, it will accomplish its founding purpose and impact many more generations of Scheller students.
Jones feels extremely happy and proud to see Blacks in Business still thriving five years after its inception and he encourages the club to keep important conversations going.
“I think there are a lot of very genuine students within Scheller and Georgia Tech. Don’t be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions and don’t take offense when somebody wants to ask questions not from the standpoint of criticizing, but for clarity and for understanding. Be open to those conversations and realize that there are some conscious and unconscious biases with a lot of things that are going on in the world today. Be open so you can take these learnings and apply them to your professional career. Be a leader in the organization you work for or that you start up,” said Jones.