For a second day, I’m enjoying one of My Top 10 Perks of Working for Black Enterprise: Being among the select minority of men privileged to be included at the annual Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit, an amazing gathering of more than 800 of some of the most accomplished executives and leaders in America focused on executive leadership training, professional development and work-life strategy. Now in its ninth year (hosted by State Farm since its inception), the Women of Power Summit is a performance enhancing, capacity-building, inspirational tour-de-force for women business leaders of color, this year timed to almost perfectly bridge from Black History Month in February to Women’s History Month in March.
Even more important, the Women of Power Summit does an excellent job of creating a power-loop of past, present and future. The event is designed to celebrate the historic, world-changing achievements of sheroes with established icon status, equip and motivate today’s women leaders, and plant the seeds to nurture and inspire the next generation to raise the bar.
The event kicked off last night with the presentation of Black Enterprise’s highest recognition of black women achievers, the Legacy Awards, to actress Cicely Tyson, civil rights warrior Myrlie Evers-Williams, BE 100s CEO Valerie Daniels-Carter, oral history archivist Julieanna Richardson and children’s champion Marian Wright-Edelman. Later today, in contrast to last night’s celebration of past achievements, the focus will be on the future at a session called “Educating Our Daughters: Preparing Our Next Women of Power.” Presented by Black Enterprise with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the session will bring attendees of the Women of Power Summit together to discuss equipping girls with the skills and knowledge they will need to ascend to even greater heights of accomplishment and contribution to business and society.
As a father of three daughters (one of whom has attended the Women of Power Summit as a young adult), when I think of the Legacy Awards, the “Educating Our Daughters” forum, and similar events and initiatives, I am grateful for and encouraged by the efforts to prepare girls and women for success, advancement and leadership. However, I have to admit, as a father of a son (and as a man who was once a fatherless son), I can admit to being envious, and more importantly, more than a little concerned. Not that we are doing too much for our daughters, but that we are not doing enough for our sons.
The issue of the not-so-covert campaign against black boys has become the elephant in the room for much of Black America, even as we acknowledge everything we do and must continue to do for black girls. This issue has always been part of the private discussions among the attendees of the Women of Power Summit, who quietly worry about what might become of their sons and who their daughters might marry. It was openly addressed by author, educator and activist Evers-Williams, in her fascinating one-on-one interview by Women of Power Co-editorial Director Sonia Alleyne this morning. Evers-Williams bluntly and directly stated that all of the gains and achievements of African Americans, including our Legacy Award honorees, could be lost if we do not make ending the assault on black boys not only a matter of concern, but a priority. That point was also made by fellow Legacy Award Honoree and Children’s Defense Fund Founder Wright-Edelman, who challenged the attendees of the Women of Power Summit to do more than embrace their power, but to use it in defense and support of the poorest and politically powerless among us: children, and black children in particular. It is belaboring the obvious to say this includes black boys.
It’s not that there are no efforts to protect, strengthen and uplift black boys, and I am encouraged by the increasing number of new initiatives that have recently emerged, such as All Star Code, the tech focused program for young black males founded by Christina Lewis Halpern, daughter of the legendary dealmaker and black business icon Reginald F. Lewis. The My Brother’s Keepers initiative just announced by President Barack Obama, aimed at creating opportunities for and addressing the challenges faced by black and Latino boys, is a huge step in the right direction. But each and every one of us needs to be as focused on nurturing the next Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Ken Chenault and Reginald Lewis as we are on uplifting the next Oprah Winfrey, Ursula Burns and Valerie Daniels-Carter.
Divest from our daughters? Never that. But we must invest in our sons—not just in their survival—but their success. The ultimate success of black girls hinges on ending the assault on black boys. In fact, the campaign against black boys is a campaign against children—period. Men of Power, wherever you are, we need to step up, then step up even higher, and keep on stepping. Women of Power, we cannot march onward and upward without you.
Use #BEWPS for social media updates from the 2014 Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit, hosted by State Farm, from February 26 through March 1 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, Fla. Use #BESmart today, Thursday, February 27, 2014, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to follow updates from the “Educating Our Daughters: Preparing Our Next Women of Power.”