Throughout February, in honor of Black History Month HEAF hosted multiple virtual events for our students and volunteers. Our goal was to recognize the contributions of Black trailblazers past and present, to honor those who are inspiring our students to reach for their dreams, and to embolden HEAF students with the confidence that they too can be history makers.

Our “Inspiring Future History Makers” panel series included an Industry Immersion panel led by a HEAF corporate partner. This session gave HEAF students the incredible opportunity to interact with the company’s Black Employee Collective. Students were exposed to the corporate partner as a business, gained a deeper understanding of many roles and responsibilities across the company, and learned about the importance of employee alliance groups like it’s Black Employee Collective. HEAF students and volunteer participants then spent time in smaller groups discussing the importance of representation in the workplace. Students also relished the opportunity to glean as much college and career advice as time allowed!

Later in the month, HEAF’s Black Excellence and Leadership panel gave students the opportunity to hear from Black leaders across industries. Panelists Melissa Potter, Vice President of Social Impact at MTV; Jaleel Campbell, Freelance Artist and Graphic Designer; Selena Hill, Deputy Digital Editor Black Enterprise, Journalist and creator of ‘Be Heard Talk’ Podcast; Uchechi Egeonuigwe, Associate at Ropes & Grays LLP; Michael Mitchell, Financial Aid Advisor & Audio Engineer; and Khaliek McArthur, Director, Tompkins Park Senior Center & Louis Armstrong Senior Center, gave the students an unvarnished look at everything from their personal college experiences to the challenges of transitioning from college to the workplace, to the impact of being a person of color in the workforce. Students were encouraged to hear their experiences reflected in the journey of such established leaders.

As a college access program that opens doors to college and careers for students from underserved communities, the academic enrichment is not HEAF’s only focus. The organization focuses on personal development, career exposure and bridging opportunity gaps. HEAF faculty and staff always underscore to our students that the college experience is not a “one-size fits all” situation. Some people know exactly what they want to do, some think they know what they want to do but may change their minds, and others may want to try multiple things. This can be a serious cause of anxiety in a young person’s life. Uchechi Egeonuigwe’s advice really hit home: “Everyone’s path is different. You may have a goal in mind when you’re going to college and that goal may change. That’s ok. And for those who don’t know what they want to do that’s fine too. When it comes to college, be open minded and go into it like a sponge, looking to pick up as much as possible. From there you can figure out what you want to do.”

Once college is over, the next step in a young person’s life is to enter the workforce. Just like the college experience, this transition is also different for everyone. For some, this transition can be shocking. Panelist Selena Hill was open with our students about how the transition from college to the workforce was eye-opening. She described it as being mentally challenging going from “being an upper-classman, top of your game and well-respected to being back at the bottom of the totem pole.” Khaliek McArthur had some great advice for our students when it comes to overcoming those mental challenges of this transition. He said, “your expectations might not go as you dreamed but as long as you stay motivated and have a plan you will be fine.”

Turning to the experience of being a person of color in the workforce, panelists were open and honest with our students about the experience. Acknowledging it is not always easy to be a person of color in the workforce, our panelists delivered great advice to our students on how they can overcome the struggles they may face, from finding an ally to always standing up for themselves.

We are grateful for all the volunteers who have taken the time to speak with and get to know students. Our volunteers are the Black History Makers of today, inspiring our students who are the Black History Makers of tomorrow.