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Exclusive: How Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s HBCU AccessFest Inspired Future Leaders

by Jonathan Husbands

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra hosted the inaugural HBCU AccessFest at Woodruff Arts Center which allowed young adults to explore opportunities in higher education at HBCUs, develop their career paths, and build their networks.

AccessFest held various fairs to help young adults develop their careers and further their educations. The HBCU College Fair allowed students to speak with recruiters and find out what they need when it comes to applying to institutions like Howard University, Spelman College, Savannah State University, Tennessee State University, and Florida A&M in attendance, to name a few.

The career fair featured a variety of companies in attendance such as Aspire TV, Delta Airlines, Atlanta Braves, Truist Bank, UPS, and The Woodruff Arts Center, to provide young adults with the opportunity to gain insight into their desired industries.

AccessFest also provided families with a resource fair that gave them insights into growth they could foster in their community outside their careers and education.

Photo: Johnathan Husbands

In attendance, organizations such as The Emerging 100 of Atlanta, Protect the Vote Georgia, and the HBCU Alumni Alliance provided information that students could utilize and apply to their journeys.

Throughout the evening, AccessFest held panels discussing the journey and visions of some local Black-owned businesses and community organizations such as Aspire TV, Atlanta Influences Everything, and Shift from Engagement to Empowerment.

Aspire TV started the panels by discussing “See and Be Seen” surrounding taken-up space in Black media. C’Vonzell Dondrico shared his thoughts on representation in media.

“You must show up as your authentic self… I didn’t show up asking for what I needed. I came to add value,” Dondrico said.

They went on to discuss the lack of Black representation in media and how to continue having an impact as a collective.

The next group to hold their panel was Atlanta Influences Everything, which discussed cultural heritage and shaping Atlanta’s narrative. They spoke on how the inspiration for Atlanta Influences Everything came from collaboration, a skill they picked up from their respective HBCUs.

Photo Johnathan Husbands

Ian Ford told the audience, “The best and most strategic thing you can do is be more collaborative.” Bem Joiner of Atlanta Influences Everything shared, “Collaboration is our brand’s DNA.” The trio discussed the cultural aspects that drive them forward and the influences that led them to influence others.

Between Atlanta Influences Everything and The Shift from Engagement to Empowerment panel, the Morris Brown College choir held a brief concert performing traditional hymns.

The next panel discussed the Shift from Engagement to Empowerment, moderated by NBA Hall of Famer Chris Webber. The focus of this panel was investing in the community and doing what it takes to create opportunities. The discussion opened with Dr. DeRetta Rhodes, Executive Vice President and Chief People Capital Officer of the Atlanta Braves, about their commitment to equity and inclusion.

Rhodes shared, “This is about representation… Our fellows’ programs are utilized to provide students with first-hand experience of what it means to be working in baseball.”

Angela Benjamin, General Manager of Diversity Talent Acquisition Strategy, shared, “Get involved and fully engage in all that your schools have to offer. Really show up and take advantage of the many resources available.”

ADW spoke with Brandi Hoyos, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, about what brought AccessFest together. Hoyos shared, “We wanted to engage HBCUs and invest back into Atlanta.” Hoyos shared, “The invincible walls don’t exist and that anyone is welcome… You belong, and we want to invest in you.”

A panel sponsored by Invesco QQQ focused on “How to Not Suck at Money.” Moderated by Taylor Rooks of Warner Bros, Discovery, and Amazon’s Thursday Night Football.

The panelists included Renee Montgomery, NCAA Champion and part-owner of the Atlanta Dream; Chad Easterling, co-founder of Obsidian Works, and Jewel Burks, Managing Partner of Collab Capital.

They discussed the best practices for proper money management and the benefits of financial education. Burks shared, “Getting into the right habits today is critical so that when you start making more money, you know how to manage your funds properly.”

The conversation ventured into entrepreneurship and ensuring that you consider the risks when you choose to pursue your own business. Burks said, “Be sure that your customer problem is severe enough that they are willing to pay for a solution.”

The inaugural AccessFest was a huge success that capped off the evening with a block party.

Photo: Johnathan Husbands

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