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My parents attended Howard, an HBCU (Historically Black College or University), but unlike most Bison, they were coming into school at the age that most people were starting on advanced degrees. They didn't go to homecoming festivities. They didn’t have the youthful Bison spirit that comes with growing up and spending your formative years on the historic campus. My dad had a wedding ring on in photos from his college days.  My parents had jobs and full lives, and by the time I came along, there were no college sweatshirts at cookouts, and no old Howard t-shirts for me to sleep in.

Related: My Father's Journey to the United States

In our home there are reminders of our college experience everywhere, but growing up there was just one small memento in my house. I remember seeing it each time I would sneak into my mother’s closet to play hide and seek behind the coats, or push aside her winter clothes in the back of the closet to get to her high heels. She had a blue and white bumper sticker that said, “Howard University Bison, We’re on the Move.”

My mom hated bumper stickers, so I understood why it was buried in the closet, but it was on the wall -  a place more sacred than the bumper of her car.

There is something magical about the HBCU experience – the Howard experience.  While I am an Aggie, like my parents, I am now Howard graduate, a Bison.

When AT&T asked me to sit in on a session that their top African American executives were having with students from the business school during homecoming week, it was an immediate, “yes.” That’s the thing about being a graduate of an HBCU – when they call, you answer, and the answer is “yes.”

Several of the students were early and met the executives before they entered the conference room.  One of the amazing things about HBCU’s is that it brings together people from all backgrounds – all walks of life. You have kids with parents who have never attended college, alongside the children of executives.  Some are prepared, groomed to sit in a boardroom. Others have only seen boardrooms on television.

"..sometimes you have to see it to know you can achieve it..." ~ David Huntley, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T Inc.

As the students walked in to the first small meeting, a woman who couldn’t have been that much older than me pulled one student to the side and said, “let me get you together.” She started to dust off his shoulders and straighten his shirt and tie. It was something I remember seeing often when I was in business school. You have brilliant minds, but small things stand in their way – not having a suit, or not having one that is the proper color. These are obstacles that a lot of young people face when they are entering the business world, but for African American students, who often feel pressure to be better than their non-black counterparts, not getting it right can be a blow to their self-esteem.

“To compete and to win, you have to be the BEST that you can be.” ~ David S. Huntley, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T Inc.

The executives leaned forward and listened to the students talk about their experiences working on the team in the program with AT&T.  They asked questions, got feedback, and greeted students that they remembered from their visit to headquarters.

“People have helped me along the way, so I try to give back and give honest answers.” ~ Xavier Williams, President, Public Sector and Wholesale Solutions, AT&T, Inc.

“Should I go in?” a student asked me as he walked up late.  There was one seat left at the head of the table, and he was hesitant to take it. He looked confident otherwise. No tie, but a sharp suit and small red flower on his lapel. I told him that he should go on in. He gathered himself, puffed out his chest a bit and went in. I remember being terrified of being late in business school, and I knew he was being “raised right” when I saw that he had a healthy fear of being late, but the confidence to go in that room and get what he needed.

“Be who you are. You love hip hop, then you love hip hop. You still have to be a professional.” ~ Corey Anthony, Senior Vice President, Human Resources & Chief Diversity Officer, AT&T Services, Inc.

From the small conference room, we moved to a larger conference room where more students sat around tables set up in a U configuration. 

One by one they stood and announced who they were and where they were from. The majority of them wore the business school/law school uniform – blue or black suit, white shirt, minimal jewelry.  The students were introduced to the team from AT&T and had an opportunity to ask questions before the panel discussion in the auditorium.

“I used "the look" to my advantage. While they try to figure out if I'm qualified, I'm running rings around 'em.” ~ David S. Huntley, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T Inc.

I couldn’t help but think about what an extraordinary opportunity this was for these students. Getting to the top ranks of a major corporation is near impossible for most people, of any race or background, but for an African American who may be the first in their family to attend college, it may seem like a dream that cannot, will not be realized. These students were being given a roadmap to take them there by people who had done it, lived it. People who had lived the dream, were currently at the top of their game, and who looked like them.

"Being at the top requires sacrifice... You need mentors, sponsors, and people who can help you..." ~ David S. Huntley, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T Inc.

I was never going to be able to recreate the energy that was in that room, but I wanted to share as much as I could, so I nearly set fire to my cell phone tweeting the gems that the leaders from AT&T handed to the students.

 “Am I going to be a black executive, or an executive who is black? The answer is, "yes." ~ Xavier Williams, President, Public Sector and Wholesale Solutions, AT&T, Inc.

The panel shared how they handled being African American and carrying the weight of being black in a corporate environment, stories about the decisions they had to make regarding family, and how to manage priorities while creating a career path for themselves.

"I always try to bring my best self to work every day no matter what is going on..." ~ Xavier Williams, President, Public Sector and Wholesale Solutions, AT&T, Inc.

During the fireside chat, students asked questions about how to get hired and how to be more attractive candidates.

Real recruiters don't read your resume from the top. We start at the bottom because THAT'S your story... ~ Jason Oliver, Vice President of Talent Acquisition

If you are not in a leadership role in an organization on Howard's campus, you need to correct that now. ~ Corey Anthony, Senior Vice President, Human Resources & Chief Diversity Officer, AT&T Services, Inc.

My mother said, "the decisions you make in this moment will affect you for the rest of your life." ~ Jason Oliver, Vice President of Talent Acquisition

"Be who you aspire to be right now." ~ Corey Anthony, Senior Vice President, Human Resources & Chief Diversity Officer, AT&T Services, Inc.

"Your career is going to be a marathon, it's not going to be a sprint. Build a portfolio of skills..." ~ Xavier Williams, President, Public Sector and Wholesale Solutions, AT&T, Inc.

"Sometimes doing the right thing is hard... but ALWAYS make it right." ~ David S. Huntley, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T Inc.

Given Howard's amazing Caribbean community, past and present, it wouldn't be right if we didn't have at least ONE Caribbean reference, right?

 

This might have been my favorite quote of the day…

"Swag without substance is a joke." You have to have substance... ~ David Huntley, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T Inc.

He was talking about “swagger” and how you can talk the talk and look the part, and have all the confidence in the world, but if you don’t have the substance to back it up, it is meaningless.

Swag has another meaning, you know – Stuff We All Get. Swag can refer to the t-shirts, license plate holders, and mugs that say, I do this thing or I went to this college.  Anybody can buy it. When I purchased my first Howard t-shirt, I was so proud – I hadn’t learned a THING yet, other than where my classes were, and I barely knew that. The first thing I did was buy t-shirts, hats, and mugs for my parents.  They never had “stuff” to show that they were part of the Howard family. Even though they didn’t look the part all decked out in blue and white, they had the substance in their careers, in the lives they touched as Howard University trained professionals, to back it up.

"You don't have to abandon who you are to be in a professional environment." ~ Corey Anthony, Senior Vice President, Human Resources & Chief Diversity Officer, AT&T Services, Inc.

That’s what these students are getting through this partnership between Howard University and AT&T. They get one on one interactions with the high ranking professionals who give them advice that they can use not only in the corporate environment, but in any professional setting.

"My father said, 'if I live in the future, I'm a happy man. If I live in the past, I'm an unhappy man.'" ~ David S. Huntley, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T Inc.

It was a great experience sitting in on these sessions. As a parent, you wonder who will influence your children when they leave your house, and places like Howard make sure that only the best are presented to the students. At the end of the day, I took the opportunity to ask what a parent could share with a college student who is seeking employment to prepare them to be successful in a “a top executive from AT&T said to do this so you should listen to him” sort of way.

Here is some great advice that I got on the way out the door…

Character is everything. You work hard to build it up, and it takes just one little thing to damage it and make it hard to recover. You work hard to build a personal brand, but you lead with your character.”  - David S. Huntley, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T Inc.

Eliminate the "buts" in your career, and remain open to possibilities. Don't walk, don't jump, but leap.” - Jason Oliver, Vice President of Talent Acquisition

Make the best of the opportunities that you are given. If you are in school, treat it as a job. Don’t anything for granted. Take it seriously. Don't squander the opportunity.” - David S. Huntley

Always be prepared to tell your story within 30 seconds. What excites me [as a recruiter] is how you've gotten to where you are. Turn your passion into a discussion, discussion into action. Your story is what you are passionate about.” - Jason Oliver, Vice President of Talent Acquisition

 “Just do the right thing. We try to make it complicated, but [kids’] attention span is short, but they know what the right thing is. When you say “just” it put the responsibility on them to know what the right thing is, and to do it.”  - David S. Huntley, Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T Inc.

 

Disclaimer: I was given the use of an AT&T Primetime Tablet. As always, all opinions are my own. The AT&T Primetime Tablet has a 10-inch Full HD screen, TV Mode that allows you to quickly access your favorite video apps like DIRECTV with a single swipe, and dual Bluetooth media streams which lets you listen through up to 2 Bluetooth headsets or speakers simultaneously via Bluetooth audio streams making it the perfect tablet for road trips and is sure entertain the kids in the backseat. The 9070 mAh battery provides up to 11 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching videos or listening to music. You can easily read, create and edit documents in near real time with built-in Google Docs and split screen features (which is ideal for bloggers!) For more information about the AT&T Primetime Tablet, click here: http://about.att.com/story/att_primetime_tablet.html (Review coming soon.)