Through our partnership with the Coalition of Black Excellence founded by Angela J. we have the pleasure of sitting down with the woman herself, Angela Johnson, to discuss CBE and its vision to unify and elevate the black community. She also promotes CBE Week, an event designed to highlight excellence in the black community, connect black professionals across sectors, and provide opportunities for professional development and community engagement.
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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach, and listen, y’all. Living Corporate is partnering with the Coalition of Black Excellence, a non-profit organization based in California, in bringing in a Special Speaker series to promote CBE Week, an annual, week-long event designed to highlight excellence in the black community, connect black professionals across sectors, and provide opportunities for professional development and community engagement that will positively transform the black community. This is a special series where we spotlight movers and shakers who will be speakers during CBE Week, and today we have the founder and CEO of the Coalition of Black Excellence, Angela Johnson. Angela, how are you doing? Welcome to the show.
Angela: Good. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Zach: We’ll wax a little bit poetic about your organization, its origins, on how we even got connected, because I think all of it comes together and really paints a [picture] into what the Coalition of Black Excellence is all about.
Angela: Yeah, absolutely. I love the story of the Coalition of Black Excellence because it is truly a testament of really what happens when individuals work together to uplift the community and use their skills for that purpose. So it kind of all started in 2017 with a desire from a number of employees at different organizations, at black employee resource groups at a number of companies, who really just were looking at their Black History Month planning, and, you know, we have this idea of–it’s very simple. What if we work together to sort of amplify our impact and, you know, what can we do to collaborate, to tell a different story that really is uplifting to the black community, highlighting excellence in the black community, and just is something that’s really inspirational? So that was sort of the basis of conversation with a number of people, even at Uber Hue, where I work for my day job group, and once we sort of had that idea of–once we had that idea of, you know, “Let’s collaborate,” it was a really easy conversation to have with other black employee resource groups and diversity and inclusion committees and community organizers across companies in the Bay. So how–after we sort of had this big idea, we were, you know, kind of like, “Okay, well, what does this look like? How does this collaboration come together, and what’s the goal?” And so the Week idea really came from–I grew up in the DC area, going to the Congressional Black Caucus and the Legislative Conference in DC, and I was just always inspired by how black professionals across, you know, a number of industries who focus on policy and politics come together to, you know, network, to talk about different ways that they can work together, to address unique issues impacting the black community. So that’s where the idea for the Week came from, and, you know, our theory was pretty simple, that if we could kind of concentrate our time to one week, that amplifies the opportunity for us to be in the same room and network and kind of strategize collectively. And then after that it really became a lot of–a lot of people just bringing their expertise and their contributions to the table in different ways, which I think is really where this sort of coalition idea came from. The different companies would basically offer, you know, their expertise or their hosting capabilities or, you know, they had curated an event in a certain area. So some had curated an event in entrepreneurship or [inaudible]. You know, they’re willing to open up to the community or open their space up to the community, and so it just became this really beautiful story of sort of everyone coming together to offer their expertise or their talents or their contributions for that week, and then my goal really was just–or my role was really just to kind of organize it all and, you know, ensure that people who had similar ideas worked together. You know, give ’em a day for the week and a time of the week. After the success of this year–so 2018 was our first year. We had 14 events over the course of the week. We did it the last week of February this year as well. Black Joy Parade was another non-profit organization that we got partnered or connected with during sort of our collaboration with a number of companies that was planning a huge parade in Oakland that really was focused on celebrating black culture and black artists, and it was just perfectly aligned to, you know, [ending?] events. You know, all-black companies took the lead of different events that I help facilitate, just their days, but then the Uber Hue team really took charge of the gala. So the gala was on that Saturday of the week, and the goal there was to really, you know, sort of be a more celebratory opportunity for us, to not only celebrate black excellence but to honor trailblazers, and then to give back. So we had six non-profits that we honored as a part of the week, and, you know, we picked a theme. It was non-profits promoting STEM and entrepreneurship in the black community. Once we identified the six non-profits, we featured them as a part of the Week, and then all of the money that we raised as a part of the gala went to those non-profits, because, you know, there was no organization associated with the Coalition of Black Excellence. It was just this conglomerate of black professionals at different companies who were coming together. So we donated all of the money and gave it all away, and then after that it really–just going through all of that process and, you know, figuring out sponsors, and we had a lot of great sponsors contribute to the gala and other events. It made me realize it was really important to formalize the structure to make it easier for people to engage and for us to be able to really, you know, move forth our mission that now is to unify and elevate the black community. So yeah, so it’s an exciting path.
Zach: It’s extremely exciting, and, you know, I’m curious–in season 1 of Living Corporate, there were various guests who may have in their title “black” in some way, and I would always ask them, “Why do you have Black Texas Magazine?” Or “Why do you have Black this or Black that?” So help me understand why it was important for you to call the organization the Coalition of Black Excellence and not just the Coalition of Excellence or the Group of Really Cool People Doing Stuff. Like, what was the–what was the point in specifying or highlighting race within the title of your organization.
Angela: Yeah, ’cause I think the–as I mentioned, the [inaudible] aspirations of the group that came together was really planning Black History Month Event, so that was sort of one thing. Like, the group that came together, they were all people who were–in some way, they were personally identified with being a member of the black community or really wanted to address some issue in the black community or highlight something, you know, amazing that’s going on in the black community. So all of the people who came together for the founding of the organization were motivated by issues impacting the black community. Me personally, I think for–for me, you know, I identify as a black woman, and, you know, it’s a community of people that, you know, I just really want to see come together and work together to amplify, you know, our impact and to address issues that I think are unique to the black community. I mean, it’s not that–you know, there are a lot of issues that other communities have as well, but I think that there are some that–sometimes it’s helpful to have people who understand some of those issues or have a personal experience that relates to it. And it’s a range. It’s not necessarily just issues, but just anything impacting the black community. I think sometimes it’s helpful to have people who identify with being in that community to be the ones to kind of also help amplify that voice.
Zach: What I’m excited about and what I think is important when I look at the Coalition of Black Excellence and I look at the website, I look at the information, I think it highlights the reality that the non-white experience is not monolithic and that the black experience is unique and that it’s important, and there’s nothing wrong with specifying and really zooming in on black perspectives, black experiences, because the black experience historically is unique, juxtaposed to other non-majority experiences. So that’s great. So I’m really excited about the guests that will be a part of the Speaker Series. At a larger level, I’m excited about–of course Living Corporate is just really pumped about being a part of and working with the Coalition of Black Excellence with this. Let me ask you this though – what are you most excited about with CBE Week? Like, you know, what was the first one like? What do you feel like went well there? What are you excited about coming up on this one in 2019?
Angela: The thing that I’m excited the most about CBE is I think it’s gonna be a great opportunity to really unify black professionals from various backgrounds, generations, from, you know, different industries, and I think–you know, I’m a lawyer. I typically go to a lot of legal conferences for black professionals. I know there’s a lot of great black professional conferences for tech, for business, you know, for engineering, for a lot of different areas, but what I think is exciting about CBE is that we’re really trying to have sort of a really broad outreach in terms of who we want to reach in the black community, and I don’t know if there’s–I’ve never been personally been to a lot of spaces where, you know, in one space you can hear from experts in health and well-being and finance and entrepreneurship and tech and life sciences and music and art and entertainment and education in social impact and government and legal, and you can really–really get the spread of issues that are impacting the black community. It really is about, you know, sort of this 360 professional development experience. So that’s one thing I’m really excited about, just to see all of that black excellence in the same room across all of these different perspectives. And to your point that you mentioned earlier, you know, there is–there is a lot of diversity within the black community, and so I think it’ll be beautiful to see it all in one space, and then to take it to the next level, for us to start figuring out how to develop organic relationships so that we can start to work together to figure out, you know, how we can address some of the issues that we’re seeing impacting the black community. So that’s really the Thursday thing that I’m excited about. The Friday of the summit, of the two-day summit–which, I should add, is an addition from what we did last year–so the Friday portion is also exciting because that day to me is really about creating sort of an ecosystem of support, and, you know, it’s more about, you know, looking–we have a legal pitch day where we have in-house counsel sitting with outside counsel who are African-American or who identify as being in the black community to engage whether or not there’s an opportunity to hire those individuals for work, which I think is a lot–is really important to a lot of companies who are interested in improving their supply diversity programs. And then we have a health and well-being fair where it’s gonna give an opportunity for black professionals to really hear from black therapists and black doctors. The vendor showcase and career fair, an opportunity for companies to showcase their products and engage with individuals in the black community, as well as recruiting these, you know, excellent black professionals. So it’s exciting to see a day that has such a broad reach across different sectors and just will allow people to, you know, experience black excellence in a different kind of way.
Zach: That’s just so cool, and I think it really reminds me that the way that we typically, or that we’re–I think professionally that we’re conditioned to think about our jobs and we think about industries, which is often very siloed and sectored and, “Well, I should only talk to people in this space because I’m in this space” or “I should only talk with people in that space ’cause I’m in that space.” We as black professionals can’t really afford to adopt that mindset because there’s not many of us in any of these individual spaces, and so the more we can be collaborative and cross-functional in how we think, how we operate, how we network, the better. And so what you’re describing when you’re talking about CBE Week, I agree it’s extremely exciting, because we’re creating bridges, not only from an inter-generational perspective but also from a professional or industry specialization perspective too. So that’s really cool, and it really reminds me CBE Week has some major sponsors. And let me just take a step back. So when you and I first met and I told you, “On the LinkedIn profile I got little pocket squares and stuff, but don’t let that fool you. I’m very country,” and, like, I don’t meet and see a lot of black folks, especially on the coast, ’cause I’m from the South, right? To the point we’ve both been making, the black experience is extremely diverse, and so it was so interesting when I met you and you were like–you worked for Uber then somebody else, then worked for Facebook and, like, Amazon. Like, all these major names, and again, I work for–I’m in a big firm consulting and everything like that so I’m not trying not to, like poo-poo myself, but I was just looking at all these names and looking at these black folks connected to these very large companies and the sponsorships. And so I’m curious, how were you able to build those relationships and connections?
Angela: Yeah, it’s really honestly the volunteers. So CBE, I should add, is an all-volunteer-run organization. We probably have 50 to 60 volunteers, and nearly all of them are black professionals at various companies or community organizations or schools, and they’re not just in the Bay Area anymore. We have quite a few that have spread throughout the U.S. as well. But yeah, between our advisory board and our volunteers, who are spread throughout, I think it’s really a lot of people who get the mission, get what we’re trying to do, and support it wholeheartedly. Yeah, to your point earlier about, you know, just the black professionals coming together and using those–you know, using their talents and, you know, not being siloed, I mean, honestly, the CBE story is really that. Like, our marketing lead, for example, does marketing–I think she’s the marketing director at Forbes, and, you know, we had a comms person who focused on, you know, our comms work, and, you know, we had tech people from Apple and other companies, and so I feel people who, you know, are at these different companies who have these skill sets, applying them to CBE and, you know, providing their time, which is making it easy for us to sort of move quickly, right? ‘Cause–I mean, I’m a lawyer. There’s so much I don’t know about design, about marketing, about, like, even–honestly, like, the non-profit filings and getting all the non-profit paperwork. Like, that took lawyers too who were interested in, like, the mission and really wanting to–lawyers from Winston & Strawn, [inaudible] Taylor, to, you know, use those skills and, you know, offer them for free for, you know, uplifting the community. So I think we’re just really fortunate to have a lot of volunteers who are connected to these companies and who are not only willing to give their time and their energy but are also willing to make the asks, the sponsorship asks, which, you know, at the end of the day is crucial.
Zach: Super crucial.
Angela: Yeah, to be able to fund all of this, and I think for us it’s more crucial because the socio-economic gap that we really want to bridge–I mean, the main story is just access. I think a lot of people don’t have access to these really amazing world-class professional development experiences because the cost is just too high, and so we’re really aiming to use the sponsorship dollars to, you know, cover all of the costs, and not have to pass those costs down to the individual to attend. So my dream for 2020 is that CBE’s summit will be completely free to the community and that it’s completed sponsored by, you know, all of our great sponsors and paid for by our great sponsors. 2019 unfortunately we’re–you know, we’re not quite there, so we’re gonna have a modest ticket price, but in the future that’s definitely where we’re going, and I think it’s just so great to have sponsors and donors that get it and, you know, are supportive of it.
Zach: No, absolutely. Now, let me ask you this. Where can people learn more about the Coalition of Black Excellence? And then, more specifically, about CBE Week?
Angela: Yeah. So they can go to www.CBEWeek.com. Our registration will be opened up tomorrow actually for the summit, for the vendor showcase, for the gala. We’ll be keeping it updated with speakers as they come in. You know, we’re getting a ton of great speakers, as I’m sure you’re aware since you’re interviewing them all.
Zach: That’s right. [laughs]
Angela: [laughs] But yeah, so we’ll be updating that as well, but yeah, CBEWeek.com, and then you can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, where ExperienceCBE is our handle.
Zach: And when is CBE Week? What are the dates for CBE Week?
Angela: So CBE Week will take place February 18th to 24th. Monday is gonna be a volunteer day that’s gonna focus on a number of volunteer projects throughout the day. Tuesday and Wednesday are gonna be more like 2018, where different companies host events that will be open to the community. The actual CBE summit that covers the different panel topics will happen February 21st and 22nd. The career fair and vendor fair will be that Friday, the 22nd, of the CBE summit. The gala will be on Saturday, the 23rd, and we’re partnering with the United Negro College Fund this year for the gala, which should be exciting.
Angela: Yeah. And then Sunday, again, will be the Black Joy Parade in Oakland. So the CBE summit will take place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, and then the other events throughout the week will take place throughout the Bay.
Zach: This is–this is incredible. So before we get out of here, do you have any parting words or shout outs?
Angela: A huge shout out to all of the organizations that are collaborating with us. So that’s one thing I forgot to mention, that there’s a lot of organizations, community organizations, like Traveling While Black, Our Collective, Toasted Life, Black Joy Parade, UNCF. There’s so many organizations that are coming together, which I think is also a beautiful story, because, you know, we could all be competitive and try to fight for time and money, but this is really actually–you know, it’s been completely the opposite experience. We’ve really been super collaborative, and it’s been beautiful just to see the different organizations come together and host events throughout the week and, you know, work together in different ways. So yeah, so I think this will be an exciting time, and I hope to see everyone there.
Zach: Absolutely. So this is the thing–so Angela, I’m gonna say this on the show. I want you to hear this while our audience hears this. Please don’t underestimate the impact that you’re making. Your point around access and the level of collaboration that the Coalition of Black Excellence is achieving here and already has achieved is incredible. You’re absolutely right in that so often times you can kind of get caught up in competing against one another and trying to, you know, “I want to be Mr. Such-and-Such,” or Ms. Such-and-Such, as opposed to really working together for a collective goal to achieve a unified vision, and so that is incredible here, and I’m just honored to be a part of this. I’m honored to have you here. We’re gonna drop some air horns right here.
Zach: And we’re gonna make sure that everyone has all of the information in the show notes, and then, folks, as you’re listening to this, make sure that you realize this is the Speaker Series that you’re listening to, Angela Johnson, Coalition of Black Excellence, and make sure that you continue to stay tuned with us, folks, because we’re gonna continue to spotlight the speakers that are gonna be a part of this. Again, the dates are in February. You’ll have all the details in the show notes. Make sure you continue to follow us, and we’ll continue to drop information as it’s released and updates as the Coalition of Black Excellence makes them. Now, that does it for us, y’all. Thank you for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast. Make sure to follow us on Instagram at LivingCorporate, Twitter at LivingCorp_Pod. Remember, you can follow the Coalition of Black Excellence on Instagram at ExperienceCBE, and then you can follow them and keep up with all of their organizational updates on their website, www.CBEWeek.com. This has been Zach, and you’ve been listening to Angela Johnson, CEO and founder of the Coalition of Black Excellence. Peace.
Kiara: Living Corporate is a podcast by Living Corporate, LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins. Our theme music was produced by Ken Brown. Additional music production by Antoine Franklin from Musical Elevation. Post-production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and living-corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.