Birmingham had a major presence at a roundtable held by President of U.S. Conference of Mayors Steven Benjamin on January 22, prior to the opening of the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Washington D.C. The topic: HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), which, for some companies, are an untapped source of tech, talent and culture.
“Today was all about changing the dynamic from surviving to thriving,” said Erskine “Chuck” Faush, a Birmingham business leader who launched a key initiative at the event.
About the Roundtable
The roundtable gathered thought leaders and experts on innovation, inclusion and infrastructure to discuss challenges and opportunities for HBCU’s. Benjamin, who is mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, as well as president of U.S. Conference of Mayors, hosted.
It was the perfect setting for Faush to launch an HBCU initiative he’s been working on for a while: THE YARD.
What Is THE YARD?
Let’s start with the name. THE YARD pays homage to the central gathering spot on HBCU campuses. You might know it as the quad or the block.
Now, for the initiative. THE YARD focuses on tech, talent and culture at HBCU’s. Beginning in spring 2019, it will rollout through a series of events hosted on HBCU campuses.
“We are going to develop content that will showcase technology and the budding genius that we know are at HBCU’s, enhance career pipelines with talent who will go from the classroom to the boardroom and capture the culture that is unique on every HBCU yard. … (in addition) we will bring attention and awareness (to THE YARD) at Classic sporting events.”Faush
Faush modeled THE YARD on an event he produces in Birmingham for the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) called imerge. imerge is the largest innovation and tech event in Alabama. Faush credits EDPA President Steve Spencer for setting the stage for shifting conversations from negative to positive.
“Steve (president of EDPA) wants businesses to locate, stay and grow in Alabama, and I share that mission. So I’m taking that message outside the state lines (with THE YARD), and yes while others will try to say they’re better, I’ll be telling our Alabama story.”Faush
Man Behind the Plan
Born and raised in Birmingham, Faush attended both Alabama A&M University in Huntsville as well as UAB.
“I have the best of both worlds having experienced the culture of A&M learning both in and out of the classroom, and then at UAB having a unique vantage point as SGA president to be a part of a growing urban campus,” he said.
“My heart is at UAB and my soul is on the hill at A&M.”Faush
Faush is an experienced media and marketing professional who has executive produced HBCU football games around the country. He recently served as president of Summit Media Entertainment, a Birmingham-based company that owns and operates radio stations across the country.
Prior to Summit Media, he served as chief of staff to former City of Birmingham Mayor William Bell. In that role, Faush touched each of the three I’s of innovation, inclusion and infrastructure. The results of the Bell administration’s efforts are ones we experience every day in Birmingham, including Railroad Park, Regions Field, Rotary Trail, Uptown and Birmingham CrossPlex. (Wow!)
Today, as managing partner at FSE, Faush produces major events like EDPA’s imerge. He worked with Robbie Robertson and the Colonnade Group to produce the sold-out Houston Rockets pre-season NBA game at Birmingham’s BJCC this past October.
Here’s a recap of some of the major conversation points from the Tuesday roundtable in D.C. Let’s start with a name you know.
Vulcan Materials Company
One big Birmingham name joining the roundtable was Vulcan Materials Company, the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates. Vulcan and Faush recently partnered on a program at Benedict College, an HBCU in Columbia, South Carolina. That successful initiative will be a template as THE YARD moves ahead.
Vulcan Materials executives David Donaldson and Daren Hicks voiced their appreciation to Benedict College for working collaboratively to engage students and administrators.
“We see the value and looking forward to exploring how we can do more together.”Daren Hicks, VP, human resources, Vulcan Materials Company
“We are the industry leader and have a longterm record that shows our commitment to inclusion, innovation and infrastructure. This discussion is another opportunity to learn how we all can succeed.”David Donaldson, VP, external affairs and corporate communications, Vulcan Materials Company
In Vulcan Material Company’s partnership with Benedict College, Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, college president, has been a big part of the positive change on campus. She’s led efforts to enhance campus infrastructure and improve inclusion through immersion experiences. She has also increased student enrollment and had a record-breaking fundraising year.
“Diversity is about the uniqueness that each of us represents and brings into the environment creating value and valuable outcomes.”Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, president, Benedict College
At the roundtable, she spoke of inclusion deficits as a means to great opportunities for students, institutions, companies and communities—thoughts echoed by Rosanna Durruthy, global head of diversity and inclusion at LinkedIn.
“There’s work to be done and room for investment and development of the next generation of leaders.”Artis
New Orleans Mayor Lotoya Cantrell
Cantrell spoke to the roundtable about the talent at New Orleans’ three HBCU’s—Southern University at New Orleans, Xavier University and Dillard University. She asked the big question of Jorge Torres, managing director of HBCUvc (venture capital, inclusion, innovation), “how much?” Her question was a discussion starter about the funding needed to grow communities, particularly those of color.
Southern Region Minority Supplier Development Council
Southern Region Minority Supplier Development Council, based in New Orleans, will partner with THE YARD on “the big idea” pitch competitions at HBCU campuses, which will be part of every YARD event.
The competitions will award cash prizes for tuition, books, supplies and seed funding, and winners will have the opportunity to partner with existing businesses to build capacity.
“Out of the 350,000-plus minority businesses in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana, only a fraction are engaged to benefit from resources that will grow their companies and the economy. We are looking forward to increasing this number by engaging tomorrow’s leaders today.”Al Williams, president, Southern Region Minority Supplier Development Council
“Encouraging what’s next and creating access presents students, especially African American students, an avenue to thinking and operating outside the bubble. … We are committed to building and that includes cultural capital that grows local and global communities.”Jim Reynolds, chairman and CEO, Loop Capital
Since Loop Capital’s inception, the firm’s strategic capital solutions team has participated in over $2 trillion in corporate debt, equity and hybrid underwriting, and has participated in over $300 billion in equity IPO and secondary offerings. Recently, chairman and CEO Jim Reynolds teamed up with Magic Johnson to invest in infrastructure projects.
THE YARD will launch its spring and fall schedule to include HBCU campuses and Classic sporting events beginning March 2019. It will be a big voice for HBCU’s, Faush said.