On Wharton’s brisk December campus, that first weekend of the month marked an indelible milestone as students, alumni, prospective students, faculty, staff, and the business community celebrated the 50th Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference (WMY50) at the Wharton School. Hosted by the Wharton African American MBA Association (AAMBAA), this two-day event has been a cornerstone of the Wharton community as the longest running student-led conference.
After five decades, the conference continues to serve as a platform for Black business leaders to drive thoughtful dialogue on championing innovation and creating wealth opportunities across various industries. “It was multidimensional and properly representative of the impact that we know the Wharton School has of creating the world’s best Black leaders in every sector of the economy,” says this year’s Content Co-Chair, Dana Powell, WG ‘24.
Continuing a legacy
The co-chairs and driving force behind WMY50 say it was a nine month labor of love. Brooke Bobbitt, WG’24 and an operations co-chair of the conference, says her proudest moment was “Getting to day one and having things really go in motion – but really walking into the gala and seeing it just felt like a breath of relief.”
From building the small business series to securing keynote speakers like corporate heavyweight Rosalind Brewer, who is a graduate of Wharton Executive Education’s Advanced Management Program, and growing cultural voice and media platform committed to amplifying underrepresented voices in business, Earn Your Leisure, the team curated a diverse roster that resonated across generations. They skillfully bridged the traditional business landscape with the trends and cultural interests of today. “We’re all deeply curious about creating ownership opportunities in our community,” says Dana. “I think it was bold and not traditional, but I think it’s all the things that are beautiful about Wharton and being innovators.”
Acknowledging the contributions of the small business community to both Penn and Philadelphia, the co-chairs were keen on continuing the conference’s small business series. “It is important for us to be good stewards in our community,” Powell says. Now in its third year, the program grants up to $10,000 to 25 small Black-owned Philadelphia-based businesses aligned with Whitney M. Young, Jr. ‘s pillars of equality and economic empowerment. “As we’re driving for equity for ourselves, those of us that go to this school, it’s really important to create opportunities for Philly based businesses here as well,” she says. Business owners immersed themselves in workshops led by industry experts that offered insights on how to scale their business. “They have resources that will exist beyond their time in this program,” Powell says.
Attendees were treated to insights from former Philadelphia 76ers players Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner, who are now thriving as investors and business partners. Powell expressed her pride in their return to Philadelphia to share their perspectives on transitioning from success on the court to success off the court. The roster of speakers featured other movers and shakers, including TIME’s first Black woman Chief Marketing Officer, Sadé Muhammad, and West Philly native Larry Miller, Chairman of Nike’s Jordan Brand. From Wharton, Dean Erika James, Marketing Professor Americus Reed II, and Wharton CEO Faculty Director, Professor Kenneth Shropshire also took the floor of the Huntsman Hall Auditorium. In his opening remarks, Prof. Shropshire uplifted the audience with anecdotes that highlighted the progress he has seen first hand throughout his 30 year career, on campus. “It’s important that we benefit from the wells that were dug by those before us,” he says, celebrating the significance of having Dean Erika James as the first Black person and woman to lead Wharton.
Reflecting on the event’s impact, Chris Maddox, WG ‘24, the Marketing Co-chair overseeing the conference’s visual experience, described it as a homecoming experience. “Alumni have come back because they value the Wharton experience,” Maddox says “They’ve graduated 20, 30, 40 years ago, and they still want to come back and I think that speaks volumes for what this conference is able to do.” Maddox’s insights point to the enduring connection and resonance this event holds, transcending time and cultivating an ongoing bond among the Wharton community.
– Madison Sumners
Posted: December 19, 2023