LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 15, 2023) — Last month, the University of Kentucky Martin Luther King Center, in collaboration with the Office for Institutional Diversity and the Office for Student Success, hosted the 2023 Men of Color Symposium.
Here, more than 100 men and women, ranging from UK students, faculty, staff and participants from other universities, gathered to embrace, acknowledge and support the holistic needs of men of color under this year’s theme of “Be Your Own Brand: Build It, Be It, Believe It.”
“It felt amazing to see so many men and women participate in the conference,” said Ja’Mahl McDaniel, MLK Center director. “With this being our second in-person conference after a completely virtual experience the past two years, it was great to see people engaged. It reminded us all of the importance to create space for both community building in addition to the opportunities for personal and professional development.”
Created in 2020, this event lives out the ideals of Lyman T. Johnson, the first African American enrolled at UK, who fought for diversity, equity and inclusion, particularly for those whose voices were either silenced or ignored.
Attendees were exposed to renowned speakers George Conscious Lee and Keyon Clinton and experts who enlightened and empowered everyone in the room to continue their efforts as change agents to positively impact the personal, academic, career and community development of men of color. In between speakers, there were break-out sessions, allowing for networking and deeper discussion on business branding as frameworks to advance the presence of Black and Brown men in education, the workforce, and society.
“The main takeaways from this year's event were all about building a strong personal and professional brand in ways that allow you authentically navigate life,” McDaniel said. “We provided participants with presentations and speakers who come from various backgrounds and stages in their careers in order to show diversity in how people live out their brands. We heard great feedback about our keynotes speakers Keion Clinton and Conscious Lee in addition to four other amazing presentations led respectively by Dr. Roger Cleveland, UK alum Armando Diaz, Dale Morgan, Geo Gibson, founder of Operation Make A Change.”
UK alum Zimaud Harley attended the event in hopes of gaining a better understanding of how to market himself to others while making genuine connections. He left with that and more.
“I feel as though I gained a new perspective on how individualism and collectivism affect your environment and what each can do to stimulate financial and socioeconomic growth,” Harley said. “I want to apply this to my dream of becoming a filmmaker and creator by further developing my own personal brand, 'Zimaudified,' and a shared collective brand known as 'Writer's Block.'”
Reinforcing the university’s commitment to equity and diversity in the Commonwealth and beyond, McDaniel believes that it is more important than ever before that the Men of Color Symposium is held. The symposium serves as a reminder to attendees that there are many people out there who are rooting for them, who are hoping they succeed and who are ready to help.
Moving forward, McDaniel sees participation growing in numbers as the UK Men of Color Symposium is one of only a few conferences in the state of Kentucky that focus primarily on men of color. The committee also wants to grow and continue to ensure we have representation of men of color across identities and backgrounds reflected in the content of the symposium.
“This year’s participants are already looking forward to the symposium next year and we are looking forward to growing our participation and impact,” McDaniel said.
As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.
In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.