Student Conferences at HKS: Black Policy Conference

Student Conferences at HKS: Black Policy Conference

Each spring, Harvard Kennedy School students organize a

series of student-led

conferences. These conferences focus on issues that are timely, relatable,

and of substance. And they’re also opportunities for our students to listen to,

learn from, and speak with thought leaders from across fields and sectors.

The annual Black

Policy Conference, held this year on Friday, March 31 and Saturday, April 1,

facilitates an open exchange of ideas around current issues affecting Black

communities globally.

The theme for this year’s Black Policy Conference was “A Modern-Day

Green Book.” Conference Co-Chair Brandon McGhee MPP 2023 explains the origin of

the theme.

“The Green Book was used in the

1900s as a tool to ensure that Black Americans could travel safely throughout

the country. It listed the gas stations, grocery stores, and hotels that Black

travelers could go and ensure that they would be safe from ‘sundown towns,’ or

places that had heightened anti-Black racism.

We chose the ‘Modern Day Green Book’

theme to focus on the safe spaces within the policy, government, and activist

arenas that enable those who are interested in advancing policies that benefit

and center the Black community to thrive and build networks with each other.”

The conference kicked off with a Jubilee Celebration on

Friday evening.

“We were able to bring in

musicians, DJs, spoken word poets, and clergy members from across the local

Boston area. Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (who

is now a faculty member at HKS) was one of our featured speakers at the event.

The celebration centered and anchored Black joy and is an event I’ll look back

on for the rest of my life,” reflects McGhee.


During the Jubilee Celebration, Governor Deval Patrick

addressed the crowd and local performers entertained the audience.

Saturday’s programming featured a variety of sessions and

panels on key topics affecting Black communities, starting with a panel on reparations.

Conference Co-Chair Mena Prince MPP 2023 says that attendees enjoyed hearing a

variety of perspectives on the subject.

“Our conference attendees enjoyed

getting to hear from those doing the work and those who are behind the

scenes making policy. The speakers engaged in a conversation about how to

go about reparations, and they discussed how these policies are playing out,

whether they are helping, and ways to do better,” says Prince.  

There was also a case study session featuring community

leaders from Buffalo, New York discussing the aftermath of the 2022 mass

shooting in the city and how they crafted policies to prevent future tragedies.

“A lot of times, unfortunately,

mass killings get a lot of attention initially but then lose steam. It was

interesting to focus on what happens in the aftermath of the 24-hour news cycle

in the places that have experienced these atrocities and then how underserved

communities continue to work to make sure that the community is safe,” reflects

Prince. “It was good to hear how in this specific case, leaders were able to

take this tragedy and create sustainable change.”

The day ended with a keynote address from Cheri Beasley, the

first African American woman Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court

and a former candidate for the U.S. Senate. Beasley highlighted various ways to

engage within the political arena to make long-lasting change.


Both McGhee and Prince agree that planning the Black Policy

Conference has enhanced their HKS experiences. McGhee explains:

“I can’t imagine my HKS experience

without the Black Policy Conference. It’s been such an incredible experience

that has allowed us to development management and logistics skills and explore


There were so many things we were

able to bring to this conference that are complementary and supplementary to

the HKS experience. HKS offers some great courses in race and racism led by

Professors Khalil

Gibran Muhammad, Cornell

William Brooks, and others, but this conference allowed us to dive into

these topics deeper. We were able to engage in in-depth conversations with

diverse communities and allies from around the globe who are passionate about

these issues.

It’s rare to be able to bring

together all kinds of people—HKS students, Black alumni, professionals,

policymakers, and activists—and provide a space for networking, building

community, and learning about new issues. Being able to bring this this

conference to life at HKS is something we’re both very grateful for.”


Black Policy Conference organizers pose for a picture.

Photo credit: Corban Swain Photography