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CIAA hosts empowerment symposium

Conference’s student-athletes gather to learn vital life lessons

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association is known for producing stellar athletes — among others, basketball greats Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Earl Lloyd, Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace count themselves among its ranks. And though the conference has a legacy of athletic achievements, it also is focused on recognizing and developing exceptional leaders who may one day may bring similar esteem to the nation’s oldest historically black athletic conference via their accomplishments outside of sports.

The CIAA basketball tournament, featuring men’s and women’s competitions, is held in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is an annual highlight for the conference. And, in recent years, the CIAA added a student-athlete leadership development program to the festivities, which has had significant impact on athletes in the conference’s other sports.

The CIAA welcomed 40 of its brightest student-athlete leaders to its Men’s and Women’s Student-Athlete Empowerment Symposium in the Queen City during this year’s tournament, held Feb. 28-March 3. The symposium, now in its third year, provided the student-athletes networking opportunities with sponsors and key leaders, and armed them with tools and lessons to help prepare them for life after college.

“The CIAA family is a place where we nurture, support and assist our students beyond the game,” said CIAA commissioner Jacqie McWilliams. “This unique experience brought a diverse group of student-athletes together to be exposed to the CIAA’s core values of tradition, that we all benefit from; leadership, that they can see, touch and feel; and community where giving back was better than receiving,” said commissioner McWilliams.

The small setting afforded the athletes the opportunity to discuss their specific goals and how to make themselves more marketable. Additionally, the athletes learned job interview tips as they prepared to pursue future employment.   

“The student-athletes are asking a lot of questions about what life looks like after college,” said Marcus Clarke, senior associate commissioner for internal operations and business administration. “They want to know how to navigate once college is over.”

Corporate representatives, NCAA national office staff, local community members and CIAA staff shared their experiences over the four-day event. The NCAA inclusion office was a symposium sponsor this year. Katrice Albert, executive vice president of NCAA inclusion and human resources, delivered a motivational welcome on behalf of the NCAA national office, while Sonja Robinson, director of NCAA inclusion, shared a story of how her experiences as a women’s basketball player at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, helped her reach her goals.

Representatives from the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps also provided insight, as did corporate sponsor Enterprise. Other CIAA sponsors, including Coca-Cola, also have spoken to the student-athlete leaders at CIAA events about financial management and how to start a business. Speakers from the city of Charlotte and the White House also have participated in prior events.   

“The CIAA has raised the bar with its student-athlete empowerment symposium,” Albert said. “It is a beacon of excellence of how we can and must provide impactful leadership development, career advice and nontraditional education for our student-athletes.”

There also was a career expo, where the attendees had access to companies eager to hire new graduates. Seniors were encouraged to bring their resumes, as some companies were conducting interviews on site. The student-athletes in attendance also had a chance to give back to the Charlotte community — they participated in a Samaritan’s Feet project, visiting a local school where they washed children’s feet and fitted them for new shoes.

“My experience at the CIAA symposium was absolutely great,” said Daryl Napper, a senior criminology major and football athlete at Johnson C. Smith.  “I had the opportunity to meet student-athletes from different schools and to connect and network with professionals in their fields. … We all became so close over a couple of days.”