The seventh annual Uplifting Black Men Conference, to be held virtually on Saturday, Feb. 19, borrowed its theme of "Lift Your Voice" from a beloved source: the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing," widely considered the Black national anthem.

"It is a song that reflects upon the heritage of African Americans in their story of the tension between hope and despair," said Patrick Wallace, assistant director of the Student Success Center and a conference organizer. "That’s the vision of this conference: teaching people how to speak hope in despair, no matter where they are." 

The Uplifting Black Men conference debuted in 2016 to create a space of belonging and empowerment for young Black men at Virginia Tech and beyond. Between 300 and 500 students, faculty, staff, alumni, high school students, and community members are expected to attend the free event. "The conference is not just for Black men," said Kimberly Smith, associate vice provost of Student Success Initiatives. "It's open to any individual who wants to support the academic and social success of Black men."

This year’s keynote speaker will be Fred Bonner II, a professor and endowed chair in educational leadership and counseling and founding executive director of the Minority Achievement, Creativity, and High-Ability (MACH-III) Center at Prairie View A&M University, a Historically Black College and University in Prairie View, Texas. Bonner studies issues of diversity and inclusion in higher education, including the success of academically gifted African American male college students.

Breakout sessions will add to the theme of lifting one’s voice personally, socially, academically, and professionally, with speakers that include Sylvester A. Johnson, assistant vice provost for the humanities; Wayne A. Scales, the J. Byron Maupin Professor of Engineering in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and DeLeon Gray, CEO of Black and Belonging and an associate professor of educational psychology and equity at North Carolina State University.

For Wallace, the goal of the conference is twofold: to help Black students see their own potential, and to let them know "they’re not here alone, that there is an initiative that is supporting and advocating for their academic success, advocating for their future."

Wallace, a native of Philadelphia, doesn’t remember receiving that kind of support as an undergraduate at Penn State. But as the director of Virginia Tech’s Black Male Excellence Network (BMEN), he hopes to engage Black students academically and socially with programming like the Uplifting Black Men conference or study sessions in the library.

BMEN also sponsors the Barbershop Talk Series, which brings the wisdom and story-sharing of a traditional Black cultural space to campus with facilitated conversations. "It's a space for students to be able to talk about their concerns and their anxieties, their worries, but also their hopes and their passions and their joys, things that are pertinent to their lives and to their experiences," said Wallace. The next Barbershop Talk will take place Feb. 23 in the Black Cultural Center on campus. 

For a conference that falls during Black History Month, "Lift Your Voice" is the perfect message, said Smith. "It's meant to be empowering to the students. They have a voice of their own, and we want them to feel confident in expressing that voice."

The Uplifting Black Men Conference will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19. Register for the virtual conference here. For questions, or to get involved in BMEN, contact Patrick Wallace at

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