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Representation matters. This was the guiding theme of Wednesday’s “Black Futures Career Panel” hosted by NYC Outward Bound Schools and Launch, a network middle school in Weeksville, Brooklyn. As part of their Black History Month celebration, 8th graders at Launch joined in on a conversation with six Black and Latinx professionals in careers ranging from law to photography to learn more about their journeys.

“As we celebrate Black joy and Black futures, it’s so important that we create this space for our community,” shared Tiayana Logan, coordinator of external affairs at Launch. “We are super excited for future connection with these panelists.” 

The panel began as each professional shared their definition of success. For Monique East, Associate Vice President at Citi, success has always meant planning for and accomplishing her goals. For other panelists, like Gloria Samen, Associate at Owl Ventures, and Photographer Argenis Apolinario, their definitions of success were a bit less structured.

“Success means being able to do something I love,” said Gloria.

“I was quite indecisive in my career path, but that indecisiveness has helped me be open to more possibilities of success,” added Argenis. 

The group also discussed the kinds of skills that are important to have in your toolbox as you begin your career.

Dwayne Andrews, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates, encouraged the students to develop their soft skills first — relationship-building and communication being crucial. 

“And always be early for everything!” he added. “It helps you learn the landscape of the situation before you enter it.”

Perhaps the most thought-provoking part of the afternoon was hearing about the presence — or lack thereof — of role models who encouraged and guided the panelists — especially in industries without much diversity.

“I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood, but when I went to college, I was one of only a handful of Latinx and African American individuals. I felt very alone in my industry,” shared Argenis. “But it’s important to be in the room and say, ‘this is what the full spectrum of our community looks like.’”

“I was inspired by my uncle who worked in financial services and my dad who was an entrepreneur,” shared Robert Raglin, Senior Associate at TPG. “Here I am today. That really speaks to the importance of having mentors.”

“LaRue Gibson, a fellow NYC Outward Bound Schools board member and my first boss ever, continues to be a role model to me,” added Quemuel Arroyo, Chief Accessibility Officer at the MTA. “He never let the slightest thought of ‘not belonging’ slip into my head. He said, ‘If you work hard, you belong,’” said Quemuel.

As the hour-long panel concluded, the speakers agreed that it’s important to “pay it forward,” and continue to provide this type of access to communities of color, offering to connect with any of the students who were interested in learning more about their careers. 

“Showing up to work every day and investing in our communities is how I pave the road for others,” shared Quemuel.

“I still live in southeast Queens where I grew up,” said Dwayne, “I wear my suits proudly. I want to show everyone that a Black man in NYC can be successful.” 

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