ASU could learn something from the Black Sports Symposium


Andy Cotton

Kendal Manns

Kendal Manns, Editor-in-Chief

This past weekend I had the amazing opportunity to go to the Black Sports Symposium in Atlanta, Georgia, where I learned a lot from different panels and with great people. Now that I am back on the campus of Alabama State University, I believe there are ways the university can apply some of these lessons.
The first lesson is the importance of students seeing professionals that look like us. Not only were there many Black professionals at the Black Sports Symposium, but they also had diverse looks. This was especially true when it came to hair. For myself and many others, we have been told that in order for us to “make it” in corporate America we have to look a certain way (low cut, straight hair, lack of uniqueness). Unfortunately, many times this look conforms to the standards of white people.
At the Black Sports Symposium, the opposite was true. There were professionals with locs, afros, curls and other styles synonymous with Black culture. Even among a sea of Black people, our uniqueness was on full display. We need more of that in our communities at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Some students believe that because they do not reach the standard of corporate America and give up before they even try. Having more Black professionals that are still successful and in love with their uniqueness is inspiring.
For a young man trying to “make it” in the sports industry this meant a lot to me. The message that stuck with me was that you have to be “authentically yourself” and that “if people don’t accept you for that, then you don’t need to work for them.” These words instilled confidence in me that despite the locs that I have on my head, it does not change my value or ability to get the job done.
Another aspect of the Symposium I loved was the presentation of lesser-known opportunities. When people think of careers in sports, the first ones that come to mind are in the NFL and NBA. There are so many different opportunities outside of those arenas. The Olympics, Nascar, professional wrestling and other areas can open the door to so many different opportunities for young Black professionals.
Mental health was also an issue tackled by the Symposium’s panels. Some of the advice from the panelists was to put your health first, find your inner child while healing and take up digital journaling to turn your pain into passion. A recommended method I found interesting was the “R.A.P.” Method (recognizing unfamiliar thoughts and feelings, accepting and acknowledging said feelings and processing through them with a professional).
This type of advice can be a tremendous help for young professionals. According to a Jan. 2023 report from NACE Center, “51% of young professionals report having needed help for emotional or mental health problems in the past year. Among these respondents, 45% believe their work environment has taken a negative toll on their mental health.” With so many of us dealing with mental or emotional health problems, it is more important than ever for us to take our mental health seriously.
The importance of job culture was something that panelists stressed as well. Jakeim Jackson-Bell, the manager of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion for the Milwaukee Bucks and Fiserv Forum Arena, explained that he always evaluates the culture of a job before he accepts an offer. He desires to be in spaces that allow him to be himself.
These are just a few of the things that I truly enjoyed from the Symposium. For the first time in my life I felt like I was surrounded by like minded Black individuals with the same drive and ambition as me. The panel discussions instilled me with so much knowledge about what it is like at the next level and what I need to know in order to be successful.
After speaking with different students from different institutions, it was very clear that they felt the same way. Even students from PWIs explained their excitement over being around others with their same dreams and aspirations. It was truly a life changing experience.
I believe we need more events like this on our campus. Our department of Career Services does a good job of giving us access to career fairs and things like that but I think we can do better. I believe the university needs to be more intentional about who they bring in to speak to students and the opportunities they offer. Students at Alabama State University would love to see different types of symposiums or guest speaker events that fit their specific goals.
With students and administration working together, I believe that Alabama State University could hold events like the Black Sports Symposium on campus and create more opportunities for improved enlightenment for the future of our young professionals.