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Our 50 Favorite African-American Professional Speakers 2020

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Our commitment as event professionals means ensuring the speakers we're putting on our stages (digital and in person) are sharing diverse, inclusive, and impactful stories, transformational habits, and insights in business, leadership, faith, gender equity, education, creativity, innovation, persistence, and more.

A study from Bizzabo found 69% of professional speakers globally are male. However, less attention has been paid to how too many events also lack racial diversity. We know diversity in teams unlocks innovation and makes us smarter. So I’m routinely surprised at the reluctance of event managers to prioritize this.

Challenge the status quo of who the expert on the event stage should be

There are some long-held beliefs that we need to challenge if we are going to truly diversify conferences, events, and tradeshows. First, we must undo the fallacy that the most confident or engaging speakers are the most competent in imparting knowledge and learning to your community. They’re often not.

Instead, we need to fundamentally understand and accept how different perspectives and life experiences among speakers will bring a richer conversation to any conference, and as a result, encourage greater attendee participation from diverse and underestimated communities.

In 2019, Apple had more people of color than ever in their history taking the stage, limiting the total of white men. Though the more diverse lineup drew mixed reactions on social media, many inside in the events industry felt it was a step in the right direction. But how big was the ripple really?

"Black leaders have struggled to make inroads in a variety of influential industries and sectors. At U.S. finance companies, only 2.4% of executive committee members, 1.4% of managing directors, and 1.4% of senior portfolio managers are black. A mere 1.9% of tech executives and 5.3% of tech professionals are African-American. Black representatives and senators account for 9% of the U.S. Congress. The average black partnership rate at U.S. law firms from 2005 to 2016 was 1.8%. Only 7% of U.S. higher education administrators and 8% of nonprofit leaders are black. And just 10% of U.S. businesses are owned by black men and women. As the Toigo Foundation points out, all this has a cascading impact on economic development, housing, jobs, quality of schools and other services, access to education, infrastructure spending, consumer credit, retirement savings, and more." HBR - Towards a Racially Justice Workplace

In 2020, many corporate and association events continue to be notable not only for the prominent people on stage, but also for those who are missing, usually women and people of color. For event managers, however, past performance need not be an indicator of future results. 

Changing the

ways event professionals source and book speakers

Many of us use the same methods to find speakers: We invite people we know or know of or we have an open call for proposals. But because those processes reliably over-represent white male candidates, the results still are not bringing the racial diversification we need on our event stages. We must also recognize and acknowledge the systematic barriers holding back people of color (especially) from being recognized as experts.

As event organizers, especially those of us with privilege, we have the power to lift up speakers of color and both present and advocate for them on a platform to showcase their expertise. 

Here are fifty of our favorite African-American speakers that should be gracing your next keynote stage or company meeting

hire african american speaker nifty method

  1. Darren Woodson
  2. Bertice Berry
  3. Justin Forsett
  4. Simon T. Bailey
  5. Marquessa Pettaway
  6. Bozoma Saint John
  7. Risha Grant
  8. Chris Gardner
  9. Kimberly Bryant
  10. Lauren Delisa Coleman
  11. Chef Jeff Henderson
  12. Farai Chideya
  13. Erica Javellana
  14. Chris Rabb
  15. Vernice “Fly Girl” Armour
  16. Bob Love
  17. Dr. Traci Lynn
  18. Dr. Adolph Brown
  19. Rachael Ross
  20. Harvey Alston
  21. Coach Ken Carter
  22. Devon Harris
  23. Earvin “Magic Johnson
  24. Omar Johnson
  25. Daymond John
  26. Dr. Natalie Nixon
  27. Jade Simmons
  28. Carla Harris
  29. Brian Holloway
  30. Les Brown
  31. Christopher Gardner
  32. Lisa Nichols
  33. Baruti Kafele
  34. Roland S. Martin
  35. Christopher Paul Curtis
  36. Dr. Ronald Ferguson
  37. Angela Davis
  38. Gloria Ladson-Billings
  39. Stephanie Robinson
  40. Kimberly S. Reed
  41. Daymond John
  42. AJ Carr
  43. Egypt Sharrod
  44. Van Jones
  45. Zuriel Oduwole
  46. Donna Brazile
  47. Paula Boggs
  48. Sarita Maybin
  49. Celeste Headlee
  50. Bernice King

Use your privilege

As a white woman in an upper-middle class tax bracket, I have privilege. Growing up, I was always told that there were no limits. While I have encountered the patriarchy several times over the course of my professional and personal life, I've always known that I have a seat at the table, even if I had to push my way there with sharp elbows.

I have the privilege of confidence. I have the privilege of safety in many situations. My children do not fear walking down the street, and though I wait for the day my daughter can see herself reflected back in the office of the US President, there are representations I can point to that allow her to know the same truth and privilege that I have. 

Most of my black friends and professional colleagues do not have this. They can't point to as many stages, boardrooms, conference meeting rooms, or professional development webinars. Help change the equation and showcase all voices of value. 

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