Celebrating Black History Month: Allyship at Booth

Celebrating Black History Month: Allyship at Booth

When the five of us decided to become African American MBA Association (AAMBAA) co-chairs in February of 2020, we could not have imagined the challenges we would face through the rest of the year. First, the pandemic shook up all of our plans and instead of expanding and improving events we were forced to adapt them to a more virtual experience. Then, on May 25, George Floyd was murdered by a Minnesota police officer while three fellow officers stood by, sparking protests across the country, including a number of protests right outside our windows in downtown Chicago. The next day The New York Times made us aware that Booth alumna, Amy Cooper, endangered the life of a Black birdwatcher by calling 9-1-1 and making false claims about him attempting to harm her.

Historically, AAMBAA co-chairs’ main responsibilities have been in service of Black Booth students – supporting their career searches, providing mentorship to first years, and creating community by making sure everyone has a little fun. After the unrest this summer, we found ourselves taking on new and expansive roles. We served as educators to classmates just learning that white privilege can turn deadly, activists in our attempts to get Booth to make a public statement, consultants to administrators and professors looking to make changes to curriculum, and the faces of the Black community to our peers and Booth administration. Each of us managed these time consuming and emotional roles while managing our personal distress about the death of yet another person who looks like us, our friends, and our families.

One satisfying silver lining, however, was our non-Black fellow students who came out of the woodwork to offer kind words, acknowledge the work we were doing, and support us wherever possible. Many members of the Class of 2020 offered to withhold their class gift if Booth refused to make a public statement denouncing racism. When conversations about the protests turned contentious on Slack, non-Black classmates stepped in, sharing words in support of the protestors and attempted to educate others about why these demonstrations were important. And, when AAMBAA co-chairs found ourselves as the educators and defenders, individual classmates who weren’t comfortable with making public statements sent messages of sympathy and support to us directly. As a result, a new Slack channel called #allies was born where non-minority students could share educational resources among themselves and whom minority leaders at Booth could reach out to for support.

As co-chairs, we realized that there was an appetite among non-Black students for greater exposure to and integration with Booth’s Black community, so we created an official AAMBAA Ally Membership. Taking a page out of OUTreach’s book, we created a membership tier that offered exclusive, reduced price, or free access to AAMBAA educational and social events, as well as access to the monthly newsletter that keeps students abreast of upcoming activities. The co-chairs recognized that particularly thoughtful allies might be concerned about taking up space at events that are designed to be safe spaces for only Black students. The ally membership allowed us to preserve those spaces for Black students, and also encouraged us to think creating events where we wanted allies to learn, celebrate, and have fun with Black Boothies, and made inviting them easier and more explicit.

When planning programming for Black History Month at Booth, we made it a priority to keep up the enthusiasm among our existing allies and drum up interest from new ones (primarily first years who were not yet students when the #allies channel came to be). Furthermore, we wanted to partner with the student groups who had really got the hang of making content engaging over Zoom. After a tough summer it was extremely heartening to see clubs excited to partner with us and willing to encourage their members to engage with the Black experience. We successfully partnered with the Wine Club to put on the second event focused on learning about Black winemakers and the difficulties they face. We found one of the few Black owned breweries in the Chicagoland area and partnered with the Belgian Club to bring him in to walk us through a tasting and talk about building his business. The Epicurean Club supported us in purchasing over 100 meals from four Black owned businesses, and we heard from a recognized black chef. And finally, we organized three allyship and activism panels and workshops, including one with OUTreach to learn about allyship from the perspectives of queer people of color.

It’s our belief that the goal of Black History Month is to celebrate Black intellectualism, art, relationships, power, and joy despite the challenges we face. It’s important to remember, however, that Black people celebrate these things among ourselves every month of every year. This year, we wanted to invite our allies and peers to learn about and celebrate Black excellence with us and to leave Booth with a greater appreciation for the Black American experience.

Brian Billups, Kene Ezeoke, Jillesa Gebhardt, Michael Henry, and Michael Hoyos are all members of Booth’s Class of 2021 and current AAMBAA co-chairs.