A Dream Deferred | HBCU Conference 2024

Black on the Board

If you could picture the epitome of Black excellence, it would look like the dynamic panel of Black leaders at the Black on the Board session during the 2024 A Dream Deferred™ conference.

Our panelists share something in common. They all have experience as members of a board of directors—each representing a different type of organization: a regional association, a national membership organization, a youth development center, and a university.

Yet while they share this board member status, we get to discover their richly diverse perspectives—and learn from their stories.

Black on the Board Panelists

Pictured (left to right): Yancie Davis, Eddie Pickett, Crystal Newby, and Jonathan Ferrell

On Community and Stewardship

The future director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at the Bentley School, Yancie Davis has sat on the board of East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC) since 2002. But he’s known the youth center for far longer. He grew up there—literally.

As a high schooler, EOYDC wasn’t just a place where he’d play sports. It was a community that supported him in getting to college as a first-generation student.

“It’s important to continue stewardship,” Davis says as someone with a personal connection to the organization he serves. “People have given to you, and you have an opportunity to give back to them.”

On Owning Your Perspective

Crystal E. Newby, senior director of strategic admission, access, and diversity initiatives at College Board, sits on the board of trustees of her alma mater, the University of Scranton. Now in her second year on the board, she’s the current education committee chair.

Imposter syndrome, she brings up, is real. Newby describes getting the phone call inviting her to join the board and wondering “Why me? I can’t afford to have my name be put on a building.”

But Newby realized that financial power wasn’t what made her valuable to the Scranton board of directors. It was her point of view. She possessed a history of undergraduate and graduate success with the university. She understood the student experience. She had built relationships with faculty. Her best advice is to leverage the perspective that you, not anyone else, can bring.

On Personal Values as a Public Figure

“My motivation is to support the students who look like me that didn’t even know that college was possible,” shares Jonathan Ferrell, director of college counseling at Pace University. He most recently served as president of the board of directors at the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling (SACAC).

My “Why?” is making an impact in spaces where people like me aren’t usually found. That drives me every day.

Jonathan Ferrell, Director, College Counseling, Pace University

During the 2020 George Floyd events, he recalled feeling conflicted as a Black man and the president of a board. He explains that despite his organization issuing a statement, he felt the need to say more for the Black community. This took the form of writing his own statement and posting it to his personal channels. He notes that board leadership requires assessing how individual actions can reflect on the organization.

Edward “Eddie” Pickett III, senior associate dean and director of recruitment at Pomona College and finance and audit committee chair of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) board, mentions “knowing where the line is.” A key skill is balancing when to insert your voice and when to apply restraint.

Questions to Prepare for Board Service

The panelists ended the session by posing questions to ask before getting involved with a board:

  • Why do I want to join the board for this organization? Why this moment?
  • Do I have enough of a filter to be a public figure?
  • What gaps in my understanding or work might I need to address or fill prior to joining? Or while I’m on the board?
  • What do I want to gain professionally from this experience?
  • What type of board am I joining?
  • Who makes decisions in the organization? Who makes decisions on the board? Can I work with them?
  • Is it a weekly, monthly, or annual commitment? What’s the duration of the commitment? Can I devote the time necessary to thrive in the role? What are the travel requirements?
Black on the Board Panelists 02

Pictured (left to right): Eddie Pickett at podium, Yancie Davis, Crystal Newby, and Jonathan Ferrell

Pictured (left to right): Eddie Pickett standing, Yancie Davis, Crystal Newby, and Jonathan Ferrell