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Recap: 2019 Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights

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“Economic Empowerment: The Unfinished Business of Civil Rights” was the big topic of this year’s Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights, held at Rowling Hall on May 1-2. Speakers included startup founders, financial equity advocates, African American history scholars, documentary filmmakers and nonprofit executives.

Here are a few highlights from the event. All photos can be found on our Flickr site. Follow the online conversation: #SweattSymposium.

Day One

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Day one kicked off with a panel discussion about gentrification and displacement in East Austin. Eric Tang (left) moderated the dialogue with Gabriel Amaro, research associate in the College of Liberal Arts; Mechele Dickerson (right), Texas Law professor; and Elizabeth Mueller (center), professor of community and regional planning at UT Austin’s School of Architecture.
Elizabeth Mueller

“If you hear that affordable housing is coming into your neighborhood and you start worrying about parking, congestion and how this will affect your local school, you’ve become part of the problem”–Mechele Dickerson


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A panel of filmmakers screened “Reflections on a Legacy: East 12th Street,” a documentary featuring oral storytelling by longtime East Austin residents. Panelists included filmmakers Stephanie Lang, Funmi Ogunru, Rachel Winston (pictured above), and longtime East Austin resident Volma Overton II.

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Juliet Walker, professor of history at UT Austin, delved into the history of Black business owners, illuminating the persistent diversity gap in today’s business sector.

“When will Black economic lives matter?”–Juliet Walker

During the networking luncheon, Valorie Marks, a graduating senior in the College of Natural Sciences, shared her experiences abroad, where she studied entrepreneurship across cultures. Picture here is Marks (center) with Leonard Moore (left), vice president for diversity and community engagement and professor of history; and Devin Walker, director of the DDCE’s Global Leadership and Social Impact initiative.

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Darren D. Kelly, the DDCE’s deputy to the vice president, moderated a discussion on corporate citizenship and social impact. Panelists included Vera Hinojosa (left), vice president of enterprise initiatives and transformation at Netspend; and Rodolfo Jimenez (right), program officer at the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

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Leonard Moore and several members of the Austin Area Urban League reflected on 40 years of advocacy work for the city’s historically underserved African American community.

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The last panel of the day highlighted the many challenges and triumphs women entrepreneurs are facing in today’s marketplace. De J. Lozada (center), founder of Soul Popped Gourmet Popcorn, moderated a candid discussion with two successful startup founders: Vi Nguyen of Homad (left) and Nelly Garcia of Rocheli Patisserie .

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Rubén Cantú, executive director of the DDCE’s Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship initiative, concluded the day with a round of “Lightening Talks” led by Denisha Jenkins (pictured above), founder and CEO of Kardia Advisory Group; Zuby Onwuta, founder of Think and Zoom; and Kehlin Swain, CEO at Xplosion Sports Tech.

 “You always have to remember your ‘why’ when setting your vision and mission statement.”–Denisha Jenkins

Day Two

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Leonard Moore kicked off the second day with a conversation about our nation’s systematic poverty gap. The talk sparked an interactive discussion among members of the audience about solutions and strategies for closing the gap.

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Rubén Cantú introduced the crowd to the second round of “Lightening Talks” by startup founders Joi Chevalier of The Cook’s Nook, Katie Fang of SchoolLinks and Roman Gonzalez of Gardenio (pictured above).

“One thing I learned is that in business, just like in gardening, you don’t have to grow it alone.”–Roman Gonzalez

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Vicky H. Sepulveda, a Google digital coach at Adecco Staffing, moderated a panel titled “Supporting Minority Business Owners: The Role of Ethnic Chambers and Innovation Hubs.” Panelists included Marina Bhargava (pictured above), president and CEO of the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce; Tam Hawkins, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce; and Cruz Correa, manager at Community Loan Center Program.

“The term ‘Asian American community’ is a misnomer; it should be ‘communities.’ There’s more than one community that need to be recognized.”–Marina Bhargava

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McCombs School of Business Professor John S. Butler closed the event with a brief history lesson on African American business leaders. He left the audience with a long list of books to read over the summer, including “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”

“In the media, nobody talks about Black wealth; nobody talks about the history of Black wealth.”–John S. Butler

More about the Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights: The annual symposium is named for Heman Sweatt, an African American who was denied admission to the UT Austin School of Law in 1946 on the basis of race. Sweatt, with the help of the NAACP, sued the University. In the landmark case, Sweatt v. Painter, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate law school facilities could not provide an education equal in quality to that available at the UT law school. The Sweatt decision helped pave the way for admission of African Americans into segregated colleges and universities.