Top Black Amazon executives share tips, advice with students at DC’s Ballou High School

Some of the top Black executives at Amazon brought their best personal and professional tips to a group of young leaders at Ballou High School in Southeast D.C. in a partnership between the tech giant and D.C. Public Schools.

The DCPS Connected Schools program and Amazon’s Community Access program co-hosted the event that brought members of Amazon Black Leaders and Executives (ABLE) and a group of 9th to 11th grade students together.

Ballou High School students enrolled in either the school’s 3DE Entrepreneurship class or the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Computer & Information Technology program.

During the 30-minute Q&A session, the students’ heads nodded as the company’s vice presidents and engineers encouraged them to dream big for their careers, to refine their personal brands, and to put in the hard work required to make it happen.

“Find what you love, find what you’re passionate about,” said ABLE member Bryant Lowery, “because you’ll end up with that extra energy that gets you over those challenges and hurdles that come along the journey.”

The panel members said they could feel a connection with their audience.

Students at Ballou High School in Southeast D.C. met with some of the top Black executives at Amazon on Thursday. (WTOP/Sarah Jacobs)

“Representation really matters,” Lowery said. “I think with us being Black males, we can really relate and connect to the kids in the audience, so I did see a lot of engagement.”

Lorenzo Patton, vice president of Finance Operations Services, said he hoped students came away with the message to “strive and have courage.”

“It’s important because we talk about the good parts of it, ‘Hey, I’ve got this VP job at Amazon, and it’s super cool,’ and all that stuff,” Patton said. “But there’s a lot of work that went into that. And we’re trying to arm them for the times when it’s not so cool, and it just feels like you’re grinding your way through it. But that’s how you get past the hard times and make successes.”

The ABLE members also encouraged the Ballou students to begin creating their own success through internships and mentorships, which will build their skills and allow them to approach challenges in new ways.

“Having mentors who have a different kind of life history and experience than you will broaden your mindset,” said Patton. “So, if someone’s not talking to you about what’s possible, it’s hard to really dream big because you’re going to be confined by your knowledge set.”

Deja, an 11th grader in Ballou’s 3DE Entrepreneurship class, said students have already studied local businesses, met with the business owners and helped develop solutions to some of their challenges.

“Now we’re actually building our own brands, and building our own businesses and finding solutions to our business challenges,” said Deja, who has her own lip gloss company, which she markets on Instagram.

Zyciah Marshall is in Ballou’s CTE Computer and Information Technology class, where students are gathering the building blocks to work at a company like Amazon.

Marshall said her plans after high school will most likely involve military service, but the message to find her passion and to make a career doing what she loves resonated with her.

“What I took from this is, go with your dreams and your passions,” she said. “Go with your gut. If it’s something you really like, go for it.”

In addition to entrepreneurship and finance classes, Ballou students have the option to join one of five computer and technical education pathways, including computer and information technology, automotive service and repair, culinary arts, hospitality and tourism and audio/video production.

The CTE program involves coursework and classroom projects, but students also hear from guest speakers, participate in field trips related to their program, and complete paid internships.

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