Student-Led Conferences at HKS: Black Policy Conference

Student-Led Conferences at HKS: Black Policy Conference

Each spring, Harvard Kennedy School students organize a

series of student-led conferences focusing 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—and to present their own ideas and research.

One of the student-led conferences is the Black Policy

Conference, organized annually by the Black Student Union. This year’s Black Policy Conference, held

April 8-9, 2022, brought together attendees to hear from some of the world’s

greatest minds and practitioners with the hope and intent of finding

sustainable solutions for issues facing Black communities globally.

This year’s conference organizers, Nagela Nukuna MPP/MBA

2022 and Damarcus Bell MPP 2022, reflect on their experience organizing the


Q: The theme for this year’s event was The Radical Reconstruction:

Reinventing the Table with Black Joy, Community & Power. How and why

did you choose that theme?

A: In the past year, the Black community in

particular has experienced disproportionate mental and physical health impacts

as a result of the pandemic. They’ve seen extreme labor market attrition; a

resurgence of trauma associated with the very public deaths of Breonna Taylor,

Daunte Wright, George Floyd, and so many others; childcare shortages at higher

rates than other populations; and so much more. At the same time, we’ve seen

the resilience of the community during this time—the community united to

achieve record turnout in the 2020 election amidst voter suppression actions

across the nation, Georgia elected its first Black U.S. senator, our nation

nominated our first Black woman to the Supreme Court and our first Black female

VP, we brought Compton roots to the Super Bowl halftime show, and continued to

serve as front-line workers to ease the nation during the pandemic. This theme

was chosen to highlight the Community needed to sustain us during this

time, the Power we gained through collective action, and the Joy

we continue to exude in spite of the difficulty the Black community faced.

Photo credit: Jerald Watson

Q: What were some of the notable sessions during the conference?

A: We had a number of notable sessions during the

conference, including the Black Policy Conference’s first-ever Jubilee!

celebration—an evening of food, music and performances, and community! The

following day, we had a number of excellent panels—one that attendees

highlighted in particular was the panel titled: “Community as Currency:

Bankrolling Cooperative Power and Liberation through the Black Dollar.”

This panel discussed actionable models of cooperative financial stability,

mobility, and financial thriving for Black people, amidst the deep history of

Black communal wealth building in the face of exclusion from traditional wealth

structures. Attendees noted the particularly diverse voices on the panel, from

executives at major banks, to cooperative and nonprofit directors, to activists

in the creative space.

Photo credit: Jerald Watson

Q: What are the top three things you hope attendees took away from the


A: On black joy: Black joy and rest is a form

of power and resistance.

On black community: “Acknowledge the stress. And

remember that negative emotions that might be arising are also often the source

of some of our greatest collaboration & creativity.”

On black power: What is your radical, revolutionary

contribution going to be?

Q: What goes into planning an HKS student conference?

A: As a full-time student, conference planning is

much like adding a full-time job to existing schoolwork. Coordinating keynote

speakers, managing an Executive Leadership team, planning a musical production,

communicating with partners at Harvard and elsewhere, advertising beyond the

Harvard community (our conference in particular is designed to reach

communities who often do not have access to schools like Harvard), and all the

operations and logistics that accompany running a conference of this magnitude

require significant dedication. This year, the conference took place the same

week our graduation thesis was due, which added an additional layer of pressure

to our workload. However, we both felt the responsibility of executing this

conference to the best of our ability after two years of virtual convenings—both

for the community, and for us to celebrate Black culture, sacrifices, and

achievements, even amidst all the sadness and frustration.

Photo credit: Jerald Watson

Read more about student

conferences and student

life at HKS.