By Terri Robertson
Birmingham had a major presence at a roundtable held by the U.S. Conference of Mayors last month at its annual meeting in Washington D.C.
Local businessman Erskine “Chuck” Faush launched an Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) initiative he’s been working on for a while: THE YARD.
THE YARD focuses on tech, talent and culture at HBCUs. Beginning in spring 2019, it will rollout through a series of events hosted on HBCU campuses.
HBCUs for some companies offer an untapped source of tech, talent and culture.
“Today was all about changing the dynamic from surviving to thriving,” said Faush, during a roundtable with HBCU leaders and stakeholders as well as mayors from across the nation.
The roundtable was made up of thought leaders and experts on innovation, inclusion and infrastructure to discuss challenges and opportunities for HBCUs and headed by Steven Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, as well as president of U.S. Conference of Mayors.
It was the perfect setting for Faush to launch THE YARD which pays homage to the central gathering spot on many HBCU campuses.
“We are going to develop content that will showcase technology and the budding genius that we know are at HBCUs, enhance career pipelines with talent who will go from the classroom to the boardroom and capture the culture that is unique on every HBCU yard,” said Faush “ … in addition, we will bring attention and awareness to THE YARD at Classic sporting events.”
Faush modeled THE YARD on an event he produces in Birmingham for the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) called imerge which is the largest innovation and tech event in Alabama. Faush credits EDPA President Steve Spencer for setting the stage for shifting conversations from negative to positive.
“Steve wants businesses to locate, stay and grow in Alabama, and I share that mission,” Faush said. “So I’m taking that message outside the state lines with THE YARD, and yes while others will try to say they’re better, I’ll be telling our Alabama story.”
Man Behind The Plan
Born and raised in Birmingham, Faush attended both Alabama Agriculture & Mechanical University in Huntsville as well as University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“I have the best of both worlds having experienced the culture of A&M learning both in and out of the classroom, and then at UAB having a unique vantage point as Student Government Association (SGA) president to be a part of a growing urban campus,” he said.
“My heart is at UAB and my soul is on the hill at A&M,” Faush said.
The experienced media and marketing professional has executive produced HBCU football games around the country and recently served as president of Summit Media Entertainment, a Birmingham-based company that owns and operates radio stations across the country.
Prior to Summit Media, he served as chief of staff to former City of Birmingham Mayor William Bell. In that role, Faush touched each of the three I’s of innovation, inclusion and infrastructure. The Bell administration’s efforts are seen at Railroad Park, Regions Field, Rotary Trail, Uptown and Birmingham CrossPlex.
Today, as managing partner at FSE, Faush produces events like EDPA’s imerge and has worked with Robbie Robertson and the Colonnade Group to produce the sold-out Houston Rockets pre-season NBA game at Birmingham’s Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) in October.
Members Of The Team
Here’s a recap of some of the major conversation points from the roundtable in D.C. Let’s start with a name you know.
Vulcan Materials Company
One big Birmingham name joining the roundtable was Vulcan Materials Company, the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates. Vulcan and Faush recently partnered on a program at Benedict College, an HBCU in Columbia, South Carolina. That successful initiative will be a template as THE YARD moves ahead.
Vulcan Materials executives David Donaldson and Daren Hicks voiced their appreciation to Benedict College for working collaboratively to engage students and administrators.
“We see the value and looking forward to exploring how we can do more together,” said Daren Hicks, VP, human resources, Vulcan Materials Company.
“We are the industry leader and have a long term record that shows our commitment to inclusion, innovation and infrastructure. This discussion is another opportunity to learn how we all can succeed,” said David Donaldson, VP, external affairs and corporate communications, Vulcan Materials Company
In Vulcan Material Company’s partnership, Benedict College’s Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis has been a big part of the positive change on campus. She’s led efforts to enhance campus infrastructure and improve inclusion through immersion experiences. She has also increased student enrollment and had a record-breaking fundraising year.
“Diversity is about the uniqueness that each of us represents and brings into the environment creating value and valuable outcomes,” said Artis.
At the roundtable, she spoke of inclusion deficits as a means to great opportunities for students, institutions, companies and communities.
“There’s work to be done and room for investment and development of the next generation of leaders,” Artis said.
New Orleans Mayor Lotoya Cantrell
Cantrell spoke to the roundtable about the talent at New Orleans’ three HBCUs—Southern University at New Orleans, Xavier University and Dillard University. She asked Jorge Torres, managing director of HBCUvc (venture capital, inclusion, innovation), “how much?” Her question was a discussion starter about the amount needed to grow communities, particularly those of color.
Southern Region Minority Supplier Development Council
This group, based in New Orleans, will partner with THE YARD on “the big idea” pitch competitions at HBCU campuses, which will be part of every YARD event.
The competitions will award cash prizes for tuition, books, supplies and seed funding, and winners will have the opportunity to partner with existing businesses to build capacity.
“Out of the 350,000-plus minority businesses in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana, only a fraction are engaged to benefit from resources that will grow their companies and the economy. We are looking forward to increasing this number by engaging tomorrow’s leaders today,” said Al Williams, president, Southern Region Minority Supplier Development Council
Loop Capital which is committed to building and that includes cultural capital that grows local and global communities, said Jim Reynolds, chairman and CEO.
“Encouraging what’s next and creating access presents students, especially African American students, an avenue to thinking and operating outside the bubble,” he said.
Since Loop Capital’s inception, the firm’s strategic capital solutions team has participated in over $2 trillion in corporate debt, equity and hybrid underwriting, and has participated in over $300 billion in equity IPO and secondary offerings. Recently, Reynolds teamed up with Magic Johnson to invest in infrastructure projects.
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