“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.”—John F. Kennedy
In spearheading the African American MBA Association’s annual conference, the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Conference (WMY), we wanted to select a theme that captured not only the essence of the event’s namesake, but also resonated with all students at The Wharton School. Young dedicated his life to ensuring the full participation of underrepresented urban communities into the nation’s economic and political systems. While at Wharton we attend classes in the heart of an urban center, Philadelphia; and in summer internships and full time employments posts, most Whartonites will be living and working in urban areas across the country. Correspondingly, the issues that affect the people and the businesses in these communities inevitably affect us all.
Throughout both of our hometowns, Detroit and Oakland, there are several examples of the deep challenges and rich opportunities that many urban cities face. Detroit, Michigan, is a city that has been through crisis in recent years – corrupt politicians, bankruptcy, dwindling population, and high crimes rates. Similarly, Oakland has gone through its fair share of downtrodden times. A once thriving port city in the 1950s, Oakland was turned upside down by a severe drug epidemic in the 1980s. Yet where some people see despair, we—along with many others—see opportunity. On a causal tour of downtown Detroit, one will find new start-ups, restaurants, and a bustling nightlife. Additionally, Google recently named Detroit one of its seven Google Tech Hub Networks and will provide finances and technical support to the city as an emerging tech center. Already the home to Kaiser Permanente and Clorox, Oakland is capitalizing off the region’s rich engineering talent, green culture, and glut of young professionals to become a hotspot for Bay area entrepreneurs.
What’s going on in Detroit and Oakland is not unlike what we see in New Orleans, Cleveland, or St. Louis. Many inner city communities are increasingly craving economic development that can spur enhanced food options, more effective schools, and affordable health care for all residents. This raises important questions for us as leaders in business: How can we use business to create sustainable, diverse, and productive urban communities? What has been learned in business that can be applied to redeveloping urban cities? How have business leaders overcome structural challenges to make organizations more resilient? What innovative tools or products should be developed to address these challenges?
From December 6th-8th, panelists, speakers, and attendees at WMY will dissect and answer these questions. WMY is an opportunity for all Whartonites to engage in finding solutions to issues that truly impact the urban cities in which we live. Do not let this opportunity pass you by, please visit www.wmyconference.com to purchase your tickets to WMY.