When I first received the email inquiring about my interest in serving as a co-lead this year for the NACE HBCU Affinity Group, I was a bit tickled and not because the subject line included a “knock knock” joke. I honestly said to myself, “These spammers are getting sophisticated! They are sending me a scam email from David Ong about being co-lead of the affinity group. This is getting ridiculous.” Insert side eye.
While I have met Dave at a few career fairs and his organization has a Handshake account with our office, we do not correspond via email. I truly thought they were taking their scam game to a new level with this one, so I ignored it. Like most of you, I too frequently receive scam emails with the name of someone I know and an attention-grabbing subject line. For example, I’ve gotten emails from my executive director that he did not send, so one from Dave certainly seemed like a stretch but plausible.
My curiosity would not allow me to delete the email, and after a while, I decided to hover over the sender’s email address, as we are trained to do, and to my surprise, it actually was legit.
Yes, you can laugh at me because I did.
After I stopped laughing, I hurriedly responded with a request to learn more.
I joined the HBCU Affinity Group as a member during the 2020-2021 academic year as a way to stay engaged with my community. During that time, I enjoyed opportunities to listen, encourage, and share among a community that felt safe. I looked forward to our meetings and felt good that people appreciated my contributions. I developed new relationships and connected with Black women in seats of authority. So, when Dave and I spoke and he shared that several people mentioned me as someone to contact as a potential co-lead, I was honored and humbled.
As a fourth generation HBCU graduate (in my heart I believe I am a fifth gen and am working to find that evidence) and career coach who spent 13 years working at an HBCU, I missed that indescribable connection unique to the HBCU experience. I missed the camaraderie, energy, and flavor of the HBCU community and that “one band, one sound” (yes, that is from “Drumline”) attitude we have in fulfilling our mission, purpose, and commitment to our history, students, and community as a whole. While the affinity group did not totally cure that missed feeling, it certainly was the energy shot I needed professionally, and I count it an honor to serve as a co-lead.
Volunteering as a co-lead provides an outlet for me to stay connected and make contributions. It holds me accountable to my colleagues and to the legacy of students currently enrolled in HBCUs. I am positioned to advocate, address, and create a safe space for the HBCU culture to exist freely. Our HBCU pride is present in our monthly meetings and communication.
We do Greek roll calls and banter back and forth in the chat about the best HBCU band and athletic programs. Our virtual backgrounds represent our institutions, we wear our school colors and paraphernalia (we like to call it nalia), and we highlight all of the wonderful happenings on our campuses. As a legacy Florida A&M University (FAMU) Rattler, I love it because at FAMU, we “Bragg Different.” I love being myself and creating a space for others to do the same. Whether you are an HBCU career center professional, talent acquisition representative, HBCU alumnus, or supporter of HBCUs, everyone is welcome in our space that centers on HBCUs.
As the lead for our Content subcommittee, I enjoy activities such as this article where I can share my story and the story of our campuses. I also created a monthly newsletter just for the affinity group to help guide the narrative of HBCUs. Members of the subcommittee and I use the monthly newsletter to share HBCU history, highlight career services and talent acquisition professionals in the affinity group, make note of best practices among HBCUs and employer partners, and share NACE news and national news about our institutions. I love the feedback we receive about the newsletter as it truly is a labor of love. I even received an email from Shawn VanDerziel, NACE executive director, complimenting the newsletter! Dave recently invited me to join him on a LinkedIn Live to discuss the 2nd annual NACE HBCU Summit, but I had to decline due to a work professional development engagement. While I would have loved to show up in that space, it means a lot that my contributions to NACE and the HBCU Affinity Group are appreciated.
With one more term as a co-lead, I am excited to continue the work we have begun. There are many who envisioned the day that there would be an HBCU Affinity Group within NACE, and while I may not know them all, I am honored to do the work and carry the mantle. As HBCU alumni, we are taught that what we do and how we show up is greater than us. My goal going forward is help the HBCU Affinity Group remain centered in the concept of community, which includes best practices. I plan to contribute to NACE publications and other forms of outreach and communication and encourage participation within the association. Volunteering with NACE has been an honor, and I encourage anyone looking to join a network with other career and talent acquisition professionals with similar identities and interests to join an affinity group. You don’t have to jump into a service role right away. Find your footing, stay engaged, and incorporate your talents into the group’s mission. Service will present itself and when it does, answering the call will be an easy decision.
I am appreciative to those who made and continue to make my decision to serve easy. Kacheyta McClellan, Nicole Hall, Dr. Whitney McDowell, Seana Coulter, Seldric Blocker, and the man himself, Harold Bell. Oh yeah, I still have the email from Dave dated May 5, 2021, 12:02 a.m.