In honor of Black History Month, we recently reached out to past leaders of UVA Darden’s Black Executive MBA (BEMBA) student organizations for their reflections on how BEMBA contributed to their Executive MBA program experience. 

Chartered in 2017, BEMBA is dedicated to the recruitment of Black business students and the professional and academic advancement of its membership.

BEMBA is one of the first student groups chartered in Darden’s Executive MBA program and serves graduate business students through both academic and professional initiatives. The organization conducts activities through the generous support and commitment of dedicated club members, alumni, school staff and faculty. In addition to its professional and academic goals, BEMBA hosts social outings throughout the year to foster relationships within the groups’ membership and the Darden community at-large.

What is your favorite BEMBA-related memory from your time as a Darden student?

Class of 2021 members in Brazil during the November 2019 global residency.

Michael Long (Class of 2021) and Aja Sae-Kung (Class of 2021), current BEMBA co-Presidents

Being at Darden as the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery unfolded in the national news, while having to cope with continuous impact of the pandemic, and in a constant virtual cycle of both work and school – we were all tired. When we found ourselves emotionally, mentally, and even physically drained, BEMBA was a source of connection and energy. We were able to find a supportive village to pull together, to encourage one another, to talk, to share, and to help each other in a very trying time.

Being with our peers in these ways and at this particular time was truly an impactful and a defining moment of our Darden experience – something we had certainly not planned for, but was nevertheless truly enriching and transformative for each of us. We were able to come together and make a lasting impact for the program, while making lifelong connections, and that is something we will carry forward.

Next Steps: Listen to Michael and Aja’s The ExecMBA Podcast interview from October 2020. During this conversation, they talk all things BEMBA and provide an update about how the organization is helping to advance diversity, equity and inclusion within the Executive MBA program.

Michael and Aja also spearheaded an incredible welcome video for current first year students in UVA Darden’s Executive MBA Class of 2022.

What has BEMBA meant to you as an Executive MBA student/alum and what would you want a prospective student to know about BEMBA?

Ron with classmate Taison Bell (EMBA ’20) in Brazil during the November 2018 global residency.

Ron Cook (EMBA ’20), past BEMBA President

Respite. Refuge. Recreation. A place to swap case notes, realign one’s thoughts, react to current events and ruminate on life. The Black American experience is richly faceted, reflecting both inherited and cultivated diversity. E pluribus unum. The lab-like environment at Darden affords the opportunity to acknowledge, examine, digest and effectuate the unique aspects of our experiences in business. BEMBA is a space to explore and curate the Darden experience through the cultural lens of those facets.

Personally, not only did BEMBA, contribute to my decision to study at Darden, but the group has continued, intact, into my alumni experience. Some of the relationships from BEMBA have grown from solving business cases in class to formally doing business together in the real world. What BEMBA has meant to me in a word – relationships. I’ll look forward to engaging and being available as a resource to BEMBA into the future.

When I think of my favorite BEMBA memory, I’m reminded of trip to Asia. A group of us were exploring a massive city in East Asia and describing our observations in a cadence like the Migos. We came across vendors selling street food, of which we decided to partake. We chose the barbequed scorpions. They tasted like Doritos.

Fun fact(s): Ron was also President of the Executive MBA Entrepreneurship Club (EMBEC) and helped coordinate a Global Consulting Project to Kenya during his time at Darden. He is also one of a small number of two-time guests on The ExecMBA Podcast Episode 94 | Episode 62

What is your favorite BEMBA-related memory from your time as a Darden student?

Nii-Lante Lamptey (EMBA ’19) and Camille Smith (EMBA ’19)

March 23, 2019: Merck & Co. CEO Ken Frazier speaks at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business Sands Family Grounds in Arlington, VA.

Hands down, I would say it was when BEMBA had the privilege (through a member connection) to host an event with  Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck. Given his recent announcement on stepping down from his role, this memory is certainly special to us.

In speaking to the Darden Community, he addressed a variety of topics such as leadership, ethics, DEI and more. It was a great way to hear from such a historic and influential African-American leader (one of the few Black CEOs) and tie his messages back to what we learned in the classroom.

What would you want a prospective student to know about BEMBA?

Arica Booker (EMBA ’18), BEMBA co-Founder

Arica Booker and Corbin Norman, Past BEMBA Leaders

Executive organizations, such as BEMBA, create opportunities for leadership development, stretch learning, networking and fostering of shared interests. While it can be uniquely difficult being a minority student within a majority educational and social environment, involvement in an organization like BEMBA provides a supportive community to discuss issues around race and opportunities to band together to promote change, communicate relevant concerns and support the “survival process” in the pursuit of graduation. The shared values and goals of the members of BEMBA leads to a heightened community as both a student and alum of Darden.

Dive Deeper: As noted, Arica is one of the founding members of the Black Executive MBA student organization. Be sure to review her Discover Darden Q&A with her fellow BEMBA co-Founder and classmate, Corbin Norman (EMBA ’18) in which they discuss the organization’s origins and early goals. Essential reading!

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