Networking My Way to the White House


On July 24th 2004, I watched the Democratic National Convention on television. This was the first time that I learned of a state senator by the name of Barack Obama from Illinois. The night that I heard his Keynote Speech not only did I believe he would be President but I also knew I wanted to meet him. I never would have thought that I would have a very close opportunity to do just that through the power of networking.

Last year, I was chair of the Research and Education Committee for the Black Student Union. Every year, the Black Student Union sponsors students actively involved with the organization to attend the Black Solidarity Conference at Yale University. At this conference, hundreds of black college students participate in discussions, engage in panels, and network. Dispite having several mid-term exams at the time, I decided not to pass up this great opportunity to network. While there, I went to an entrepreneurial social justice panel that was led by Amina Yamusah. I was so moved by her powerful workshop that I decided to talk with her about her organization formerly known as Breaking.It.Down, and we hit it off instantly.

I continued to follow up with her about some of her latest work and shared mine. We continually helped each other grow. Many times we would communicate via email with a quick update and then a question or request with certain problems that we were facing to find out if either of us had a solution. As we continued to communicate, her organization formerly known as Breaking.It.Down now became Bloc, and she offered me the chance to work for her organization as a regional coordinator.

Being a regional coordinator I had the opportunity to meet more students, recruiters, entrepreneurs, and professionals of all walks of life. I was able to go to New York City and host a panel and network with several venture capitalists. I loved being a regional coordinator! As weeks passed, we continued to communicate regularly and she told me that Student Dream, an accelerator, had invited Bloc to be a community partner for the I Have a Dream Summit at the White House.

Immediately, I was thrilled to hear that Bloc would have the opportunity to be a community partner for an event for minority entrepreneurs. I went to represent Nomsy, a startup that I co-founded. But there was a problem. I thought it would be wrong to represent a company that I am not the CEO of, go to the White House, and possibly pitch. That wouldn’t be right! So I asked Amina if there was any way that we could switch my name for the CEO of Nomsy, Robert Greenfield. She told me that there was a way but we had to raise sponsorship money to make it possible for both of us to attend.

Challenge accepted! Both Robert and I went to several departments and individuals to raise money to get to the White House. We were sponsored by Innovate Blue, the Center for Entrepreneurship, Travis Linderman from Ann Arbor Spark, and the Industrial Operations Engineering department.

My first flight departed Detroit at 7am to Philadelphia, then a connection in Hartford, then finally Washington D.C. When I landed in D.C. I went to the baggage claim only to realize my suitcase did not arrive. My suitcase was still in Hartford. I had all my clothes including my suit that I was going to wear at the White House. Despite my frustrations I was able to expedite my suitcase however, I would have to pick it up at midnight. I drove back to the airport while stumbling upon the Lincoln memorial and got my suitcase at 1:00 AM. I was tired, but relieved.

The day of the summit, I went to the White House, and I met many very powerful individuals in government, business, and the media. Including people such as the former Vice Chairman of the NASDAQ, and the founder of the Nerf Gun and Super Soaker. During the event, there was a lot of discussion on topics of capital accessibility to people of color. One idea that I thought was interesting came from David Weild who was the former Vice Chairman of the Nasdaq, said that there should be tax incentives for investors who invest in certain areas who have a concentration of minority business owners. From this, investors would be incentivized to consider minority business owners and provide more equity for communities with a higher population of people of color.

Equity was another big topic of discussion. There were many questions about how predominately minority communities can acquire more equity in order to strengthen their communities, and one of the solutions was mentorship. Being able to commit to mentor someone who comes from an underprivileged community and provide them with networks and advice to help them achieve their dreams.

While there, I couldn’t help but to think if I hadn’t gone to the Black Solidarity Conference, networked with Amina, followed up with her during the summer, I never would have been able to go to the White House, have lunch with the Vice Chairman of NASDAQ, and increase the strength of my connections. From this event, I have learned about the importance and power of networking.

Written by Julian Turley, political science student at the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

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