Kalynn Clinton, Contributing Writer

Oct. 25, the Black Business Student Association hosted HIS-Story, an executive speaker panel featuring local black male professionals: Andre Stevens, engagement manager at Daugherty Business Solutions; Corey Ellis, the VP campaign system administrator at Citi Bank; Jarel Loveless, managing director of development at Teach For America; Jesse Sanders, director of information technology at Clayco; and Ono Oghre-Ikanone, quality engineer at Boeing as well as owner of Ono Celebrations Marketing and Consulting. Harlan Hodge, a character and leadership coach and entrepreneur, served as the moderator. The event was held in room 103 of Anheuser-Busch Hall and was well-attended by the University of Missouri–St. Louis faculty, staff and students.

One of the first questions Hodge asked panelists was “What does success look like to you?” Although each of the gentlemen had different stories to share, there was a consistent theme among them all, impact. Each person valued having a positive impact in their communities and looking for ways to give back. Sanders focused on finding ways to disrupt because according to him “It’s not about chasing income but impact. If there’s no one to follow me, then I’ve failed.”

When asked about who their mentors are and what inspires them, there was also a lot of commonality in their responses. Many listed their families, particularly their parents, as both mentors and motivators. Stevens also mentioned his faith as a source of inspiration saying, “Faith is my foundation.” Loveless’ conviction about this topic was evident. As a first-generation college student, he said, “Someone took a chance on me. Everybody needs that one champion that believes in them … No one can make it alone.”

Several students also participated in the Q&A portion; many tough topics were addressed and the panelists were open with their replies. During one moment in particular, there was a candid discussion regarding the significance of appearance versus personality or behavior in work environments and the tendency for African-Americans to conform in order to “fit in.” BBSA’s own Myrina Otey, senior, psychology, also gave a thoughtful and passionate response on this topic, “Diversity breeds innovation, silence is conformity. Therefore, we should learn to embrace people and their whole selves.”

The panelists gave students tips to be successful in their collegiate careers. One of Ellis’ keys to a successful life was to stay focused on the goal. His motto is, “I think I can do it, I believe I can.” Oghre-Ikanone discussed his experience of having to re-evaluate his goals versus his family’s expectations for his life and how he was able to find success by following his passion. His advice was to “make sure you’re doing something you want to do” and “look at your end goal and start working toward that.” He also urged audience members to “be who [they] needed when [they] were younger.” Speaking about his hockey and golfing hobbies, Loveless encouraged everyone to “find things that will help make you unique but can also help you connect with others.” Stevens also encouraged students to get a sponsor, someone who is in a position to advocate and open doors on their behalf.

There was an overwhelming amount of positive feedback for the event and its effect on attendees was apparent. During the networking portion, students had the opportunity to talk one-on-one, trade contact information and take pictures with the speakers. Tre’veion Alexander, senior, chemical engineering, said, “This is a really cool event … I showed up and connected with Jesse right away.” Lavinia Yalengbiye, senior, nursing, and president of the Pan-African Association said, “I really enjoyed hearing from panelists! The biggest takeaways and lesson that I wrote down in my notes were: how you perform and present yourself in professional and nonprofessional settings … I look forward to attending more of your organization’s events!” Finally, Hodge said, “It [was] amazing to see so many African-American men here willing to share their knowledge.”