Unity LA diversity initiative launches with ‘Strong Black Lead’ event

More than 75 students, alumni and industry guests attended the alumni panel that addressed leadership, professional relationships, advocacy in the modern workplace and the importance of self-reflection.

In honor of Black History Month, Unity LA, an Elon University alumni organization created to celebrate diversity and advance inclusion, hosted its inaugural event on Feb. 26. The alumni panel, titled “Strong Black Lead,” brought together students studying in the Elon in Los Angeles program and Los Angeles-based alumni for a lively discussion about finding one’s voice and propelling your career.

Nneka Enurah ’11, who served as the moderator for “Strong Black Lead,” played an integral role in hosting and organizing the Feb. 26 event at Blackbird House. Photo courtesy of Kai Byrd Photography

More than 75 students, alumni and industry guests attended the three-hour gathering, which featured Black Elon alumni sharing life lessons and professional insights. The panel was moderated by Nneka Enurah ’11, global video partnerships lead at Amazon, and featured five Black alumni working in entertainment, media, advertising, business and technology.

Panelists included Theresa Helmer ’12, vice president of digital and social media at Lucasfilm; Mykel Dodson ’10, creative producer at Squarespace; Loren Brunson ‘19, casting coordinator at Sony Pictures; David Morrow ’07, L’10, co-founder & COO at Greenbelt Group; and Mia G. Watkins ’16, communications specialist at PlayStation.

Check out this photo gallery of the “Strong Black Lead” event, courtesy of photographer Kai Byrd.

The panel discussion focused on leadership, examining the impact that diverse leaders can have on their organizations and the influence that leadership roles can have on the people of color who hold them. Speakers shared key insights about authenticity when building professional relationships, advocacy in the modern workplace and the importance of self-reflection for both personal and professional growth.

The panel also discussed the importance of leveraging LinkedIn, keeping up with industry news via the trades and the process to determine if a person is better suited to be a manager or an individual contributor.

“For me, it was important to impart to students that working through a journey – whether it be career or otherwise – is a series of a million small things that add up to the big picture,” Helmer said. “So while we’re focusing on the details, it’s also important to pause and understand the macro level, assess and prioritize. For me, it wasn’t until I placed myself in the driver’s seat of my career and defined my ‘why’ that I felt empowered to take action and articulate my vision to those in my support circle and network.”

Unity LA’s alumni panel featured several prominent Black Elon graduates, including (pictured from left) Mia G. Watkins ’16, Mykel Dodson ’10, Theresa Helmer ’12, David Morrow ’07, L’10, Loren Brunson ’19 and Nneka Enurah ’11. Photo courtesy of Kai Byrd Photography

While Unity LA is a newly established community of practice that connects Los Angeles-based alumni and friends who are passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion, it also has ties back to the School of Communications’ on-campus DEI initiative, Unity in Communications. The alumni initiative aims to be a networking and resource group that supports current students interested in enhancing diversity and inclusion across all communications industries.

“Our goal is to curate inclusive and intersectional experiences for dialogue, community building, authentic allyship, and professional development for Elon LA alumni, students and beyond,” said Enurah, who was named the School of Communications’ alumna of the year in 2020. “We started Unity LA because DEI goes beyond diversifying the racial makeup of your network or holding lunch-and-learn events on social justice. It’s a constant, deliberate effort to create a culture of genuine inclusion and opportunities for everyone.”

The “Strong Black Lead” event was held at Blackbird House, a Black-owned work and wellness space for professional women of color founded by Bridgid Coulter Cheadle, a well-known entrepreneur, design professional and philanthropist. Guests enjoyed music, art, wine and exquisite design at the global collective’s Los Angeles headquarters.

Among those in attendance was Eduardo Sanchez ’23, a BFA acting major studying in Los Angeles. He said he appreciated that “Strong Black Lead” offered him a chance to hear from unique – and more relatable – perspectives.

“The Unity LA event gave me the opportunity to hear industry advice on how to become a better and successful professional from people that look like me,” he said. “It was refreshing, eye-opening and, frankly, empowering to hear that not only was my industry legitimate, it had a growing space for people like me. I learned that I need to be proactive and add value to myself while still never being complacent and undersold.”

Additionally, James Grant ’23, an economics and cinema and television arts double major, said he learned a great deal from personal conversations with guests and panelists in attendance that improved his understanding.

“The Unity LA event was incredibly helpful,” Grant said. “Not only did it allow me to hear from an amazing, distinguished board of panelists to learn about breaking into the entertainment industry, but it also bettered my understanding of how to be an ally for people of color in this industry and beyond.”

To learn more about the Unity LA initiative and how to get involved, email unitylagroup@gmail.com.