NEW ORLEANS — Ahead of the 2023 ESSENCE Festival of Culture, the annual event recently partnered with the Global Black Economic Forum (GBEF), led by President and CEO Alphonso David. The GBEF’s purpose is to drive awareness to the issues that affect the Black diaspora while pushing various calls to action after identifying the solutions.
The GBEF opened with an invite-only summit with business leaders from many different economic sectors, politicians and selected members of the media on Thursday, June 29th in downtown New Orleans. The summit discussed methods to transform allyship and camaraderie into creating the collective financial equity needed to spur growth in order drive the greater Black and African economic engine forward.
“It is not simply convening as a group, to talk about the issues that are affecting us, we have to really be driven by solutions, we have to be driven by action,” said David. “And then what I want to do each and every year is go back to what we talked about last year? What have we achieved since then, because we need to make sure that there’s a level of accountability for us as the Global Black Economic Forum, but also for the attendees. This is an invite only event. If you get an invitation to come to this event, you have a responsibility to take action, to effect meaningful change on the lives of marginalized people.”
One of the reasons why David started the Global Black Economic Forum is to marshal the worldwide economic power that exists in the diaspora. He says its deeper than the phrase ‘together, we really are stronger.’ Blacks in America, Brazil, Africa, and the Caribbean really have to understand that we have more in common.
“So a part of this is certainly awareness, we have to wake up,” David said. “We have to wake up to see what’s happening. And then once we wake up, we have to mobilize and we have to act. And that is the core of the Global Black Economic Forum. That’s what we’re looking to do. Working with our partners. We don’t need to do this alone. But we have to do it.”
The movement must center around Black Women
During the first panel, David was joined by former Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first head of state of any African country, and United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield.
David announced that GBEF and ESSENCE Ventures would be donating $300,000 over a three-year period to support the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Foundation, which focuses on building women leaders in Africa.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to start this conversation than with two titans, two women who have broken every barrier,” David said as he illuminated Sirleaf’s role as a peacemaker. “She turned the tide at a time when the country was in deep descent. And for her work, she has been recognized by the President of the United States with a merit award and she received the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Sirleaf had one wish, when asked her dream for women: “If I may put it bluntly, I wish women ruled the world,” to huge cheers from the audience.
Greenfield added, “If we ruled the world, my dream wouldn’t be necessary. And my dream is that women have full and equal participation in whatever we do. That they get equal pay. They get equal access to job opportunities. Equal possibilities to be in leadership roles.”
The Global Black Economic Forum and the Academy for Advancing Excellence also announced the launch of the E-Suite App, The Academy for Advancing Excellence and Global Black Economic Forum later announced The Board Accelerator: a program to develop the next generation of Black Women boardroom leaders.
“Now, we could conceivably say, ‘no, we want to actually keep our funds and do the same work that she’s doing,’” said David of Sirleaf’s efforts. “But I actually have a very different philosophy, that if we were to collectively come together and think about how we advance the interests of Black people in marginalized communities, we’ll have a much greater impact. And it’s not about us doing it. It is about us doing it collectively.”
Barkue Tubman-Zawolo, Chief of Staff and Diasporic Engagement with ESSENCE Ventures, believes the more everyone understands who we are from all of the places that we come from, the more we can tap into the power that we have. Black excellence is a real thing, beyond the buzzwords and cliches.
“So from the Global Black Economic Forum, to ESSENCE Ventures to new voices, our goal across all of those brands that always sit under the Sundown Media Group is really to empower Black from small because we want everybody small to become big,” explained Tubman-Zawolo. “You can’t stay small, right? Right. If you’re small thinking then you’re not contributing the way you should be. And you also don’t even understand you’re already empowered.”
Tubman-Zawolo also believes the more everyone understands who we are from all of the places that we come from, the more we can tap into the power that we have. Black excellence is a real thing, beyond the buzzwords and cliches.
“You look in African history, or just international history, women have always played a critical role in peace building when there’s war,” It’s not about people who are here, our responsibility is to make sure the small business owners aspire to not be small business owners, but to be big business owners, but through their experience, look back and say what else can I do for the person that I know where they are right now, I’ve been in their shoes. And we need to create resources, access to the right images that they see. Representation is really important.”
The Global Black Economic Forum had panels on philanthropy, health care, banking failures, equitable representation on corporate boards, and more.
“If there is one thing, just one thing that you believe we should do to achieve economic equity and equality for people of color, what would that be,” said David. “One thing? Address poverty? Close the wealth gap? It could be mundane, it could be complex. What is the one thing that we should do to close the economic opportunity gap to achieve economic equity for Black people and people of color around the world because all of you have been invited to help us affect change. And we certainly don’t believe that we have all the answers, but we believe we have the responsibility to advance the answers and ensure that we have impact.”
Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...
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