Celebrating excellence and inspiring change: A recap of the BlackStars Summit & Awards

BY Abu Mubarik November 9, 2023 11:47 AM EDT
Group photo of the 30 BlackStars Honorees

In the heart of the world’s financial capital, New York City, the BlackStars Summit & Awards commanded the spotlight on November 2-3, 2023, bringing together over 1000 industry leaders and emerging talents across various sectors for two days of learning, connections, and inspiration. This grand event served as a platform to exchange ideas, ignite transformation, inspire excellence, and celebrate the exceptional contributions and impact of African-Americans in the corporate world.

The Summit attracted nearly 500 attendees from diverse sectors, including technology, finance, media, healthcare, law, and more, and featured seven compelling sessions. These sessions delved into critical topics such as how to hone effective leadership skills, the pivotal roles of mentors and sponsors, the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion following the affirmative action ruling, how to prepare for the future of work, and more.

L-R: Evaristus Mainsah, Edwige Robinson, Duane Hughes, and Cecilia Nelson

These sessions featured prominent leaders who shared valuable lessons from their own journeys. Speaking on the leadership panel, Duane Hughes, Managing Director at UBS Bank, emphasized the importance of crafting a personal mission statement and an ideal job description. Evaristus Mainsah, Vice President of Tech and People Experience at Amazon Ads, encouraged stepping out of one’s comfort zone into uncharted territories, while Edwige Robinson, Senior Vice President of Network Operations, Engineering and Technology at T-Mobile underscored the ability to demystify complex ideas as a paramount skill for future leaders.

A pair of engaging fireside chats highlighted the day’s events. The first showcased Sekou Kaalund, EVP, and Head of Branch and Small Business Banking at US Bank, skillfully moderated by Michelle Ghee. Sekou Kaalund, a prominent Black leader on the path to a major bank’s CEO position, shared lessons from his journey, emphasizing the importance of taking calculated risks and learning from failures.

Michele Ghee moderates fireside chat with Sekou Kaalund

The second fireside chat featured Deniece Laurent Mantey, the newly appointed Executive Director of the President’s Council on African Diaspora Engagement, in conversation with Sandra Appiah Babu-Boateng, co-founder of BlackStars. They discussed the role of business leaders in driving socioeconomic transformation within the African Diaspora, reminding attendees of the potential to effect change beyond borders. The summit concluded with a networking session, offering attendees the opportunity to connect and engage.

The 30 BlackStars Honoree take a group photo

The BlackStars Awards Gala followed the next day at Capitale. Hosted by international broadcaster Anita Erskine, it was a night of excellence and inspiration, where 30 trailblazing African-American corporate leaders were honored. Their remarkable stories came to life through captivating videos, and the five pinnacle awardees, representing senior leaders from various industries, shared words of inspiration with the audience. To see the full list of this year’s honorees, visit here. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who was the Guest of Honor, was presented with a special award.

Speaking on the essence of the evening, Sandra Appiah Babu-Boateng, co-founder of PanaGenius and BlackStars, reminded leaders in the room of the work ahead:

“We’ve come a long way, but if we are to be honest, we have a long way to go. Executive and C-Suite representation for Black professionals remains disheartening. At the current pace, McKinsey estimates it will take a century to close this gap. Look at our honorees tonight, and you’ll see there’s no absolutely no shortage of Black talent to fill your leadership and C-Suite positions. If you sense a shortage, I ask: where are you looking? You’ve heard the stories of our honorees, There are thousands more Edwige Robinson’s and Dennis Williams’ out there waiting to be discovered. What are you doing to discover them early and provide the resources, support, and opportunities they need to reach their full potential?”

BlackStars co-founder Sandra Appiah Babu-Boateng presents award to NYC Mayor Eric Adams

The evening was a magnificent celebration of the power of diversity, featuring remarkable fashion, delectable cuisine, and live music. It created an atmosphere of unity, bringing people together and highlighting the power of collective strength.

The BlackStars Summit & Awards not only celebrated the accomplishments of these leaders but also sparked change and inspired the next generation of leaders. The event served as a testament to the significant impact of African-Americans in the corporate world and a reminder of the endless possibilities that lie ahead in our journey.