The Career & Networking Fair at the N.U.L. Experience at the National Urban League Conference in Ft. Lauderdale on Thursday, July 30, 2015. Photo by Mikki K. Harris

How many times have you left an event and felt so inspired by the message that you literally run home to write all about what you learned? How many times have you walked away from an experience and remembered quotes and testimonies that you’ll take with you for a lifetime? This was the case for me at this year’s National Urban League #SaveOurCities conference in Ft. Lauderdale where I was invited by my friends at Toyota to be an Ambassador for the 4-day experience. What I walked away with was much more than the memory of great time; I walked away Inspired to Act!

The 4-day excursion that for the most part took place at the Broward County Convention Center was wrapped with incredible knowledge, the nations most influential speakers like Van Jones and powerhouse celebrity sessions that included the likes of MCLyte and Bevy Smith. The NUL15 also brought out some of the nations top brands like Toyota, Nationwide, TJMaxx, Wells Fargo and MasterCard who each created elaborate pop-up experiences to engage the over 3000 attendees.

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As I do for most events like these, I went in with an open mind, ready to take in all of the nuggets of wisdom that were up for the taking. Although it proved harder than I first expected, because the takeaways were so good, below is a breakdown of my top three takeaways that you can utilize in your own life and professional journey.

  1. The Movement that is Van Jones: It’s hard to look at news outlets like CNN and not see him prominently displayed on the screen, but former White House Special Advisor Van Jones is making a name for himself well beyond political arena. The accomplished author and civil rights activist is creating a movement with his message of innovation in both the technology and the environmentally friendly arenas. As I sat in his early morning session, I literally found myself engulfed in his message. “Any ethic group that’s going to excel in the global economy needs to identify and exploit a niche”. He went on to say, “In the next 5 years, the tech sector will be short over 1 million jobs. We need to be training up our minority youth to go after those type of opportunities instead of the stereotypical jobs for urban youth like sports or the music industry”. Van’s latest book “Rebuild the Dream” has also become his latest mission; a people-powered innovation based system to get the U.S. economy working for 100% of Americans, and not just the top 1%. This man is on a mission and he needs to be on your radar because he’s here to stay! To learn more about Van Jones, click here.

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  1. The Women of Power Awards Luncheon: a perfectly decorated room filled to capacity with some of the nations most powerful female leaders was the scene at the Women of Power Luncheon that took place on the Saturday of the conference. I was surrounded by hundreds of female trailblazers from all walks of business who were there for one purpose; to celebrate and honor each other. A line that really stood out from CBS Anchor and host Michelle Miller was “we all stand on the shoulders of strong women before us”. Miller highlighted how us as women need to ‘get strength by giving strength’. One of the five honorees and music pioneer MCLyte touched on how her goals transformed once she accepted her purpose and ‘learned to go with the flow of God’s beat’. What was clear in just one hour of being in the presence of such inspiration, is that I, as a fellow female entrepreneur and minority business owner, have a responsibility to embrace change and challenge the status quo. I also have a responsibility to send the elevator back down and nurture future generations. With such strong mentorship and powerful role models like these in my company, I can safely say that I am well on my way to doing just that!

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  1. The 2016 Plenary and the candidates who left the biggest impressions: Probably the most newsworthy portion of he agenda was the 2015 NUL Plenary, which features the top Presidential candidates for 2016. The event, which started as early as 6am, gave guests a chance to get up close and personal with Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush, along with several other candidates. It was good to see that the multicultural community still holds such a powerful position in the world of national politics and is even more reason why we each need to exercise our right to vote and get out to the polls in 2016!
2016 Presidential Candidates' Plenary at the 2015 National Urban League Conference at the Greater Ft. Lauderdale Broward County Convention Center, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Friday, July 31, 2015. (Photo by Brian Branch Price )

2016 Presidential Candidates’ Plenary at the 2015 National Urban League Conference at the Greater Ft. Lauderdale Broward County Convention Center, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Friday, July 31, 2015. (Photo by Brian Branch Price )

As you can see the #NUL annual conference is a power-packed week that is not to miss. I left feeling empowered and inspired to spark change both in my community and with my brand. Opportunity is ripe and for the taking to those who are willing to look beyond their reach. You have to be ready to act, and events like this give you the spark to do just that! To learn more about the National Urban League and its mission, click here!

Written by Vanessa James. Disclosure: I was invited by Toyota and Precise Communications to attend #NUL15. All opinions are my own.

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