CNBC published an article Feb. 1 celebrating 23 Black leaders shaping history and inspiring future generations — and Cornell students are among them. Cheick Camara ’22 and Ermias Tadesse ’22 earned a spot on the exclusive list for their work founding BlackGen Capital, the first minority-owned investment fund to be founded on Cornell’s campus.
Camara and Tadesse share their success with their executive team: Yasmin Watt ’22, Savannah Holsey ’22 and Alec Dinwiddie ’22 helped the pair turn the idea of BlackGen into a flourishing reality.
Camara and Tadesse share the spotlight with sitting Vice President Kamala Harris, corporate powerhouse Rosalind Brewer, director Nia DaCosta and astronaut Victor J. Glover. Other young history-makers on the list include 21-year-old Noah Harris, the first Black man to be student body president at Harvard, and 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history.
The BlackGen executive team called it a “humbling” experience to have earned a place on the list among people they consider role models. Camara recalls being especially inspired by Nicholas Johnson, the 23-year-old who earned distinction as Princeton’s first Black valedictorian.
“Just like last year, Ermias and I were talking about how this guy is incredible,” Camara said. “He has definitely served as a source of inspiration for me.”
Beyond the honor of CNBC’s recognition, the BlackGen team sees it as validation of their efforts starting and executing the investment fund they started two years ago.
Recognizing a profound lack of diversity within the finance community at Cornell, Tadesse and Camara founded BlackGen Capital in 2019 to reduce the barriers that underrepresented students face in the field of finance.
On a national scale, white men dominate the world of finance. Beyond the racial gap in representation, minorities who have broken through the field face additional unique barriers.
Camara and Tadesse found that this trend pervaded Cornell’s campus: according to their own research, Black and Hispanic students populate less than 5 percent of the membership in many of Cornell’s other finance clubs.
To close the access gap and empower minorities within the finance community at Cornell, BlackGen provides its members with extensive resources and training in areas such as financial modeling, personal finance, resume building and stock pitch analysis. The members have the opportunity to attend private networking events with their sponsors who hail from some of the top firms in the industry such as JP Morgan, Bloomberg and Bank of America.
“Breaking away allowed us to empower a whole entire community on Cornell’s campus that previously lacked exposure to careers on Wall Street, exposure to the financial resources and access to information, as well as the corporate access to actually land internships and secure full time offers,” Camara said.
The publicity garnered by the article has bombarded the BlackGen team with student and industry attention. Corporations have flooded BlackGen’s email seeking opportunities to engage with the investment fund.
Even celebrities such as NFL players have interacted with the BlackGen’s LinkedIn page, inspiring the team to launch a speaker series for members of the club in the coming months with other professional and celebrity role models.
BlackGen’s ambitions transcend Cornell’s campus, and the team has always aimed to expand the organization to universities across the nation. Especially now, the team is dedicated to using the attention generated by the article to foster connections with other students and multiply their impact.
According to Watt, chief operating officer of BlackGen, Georgetown University has already populated their executive board, and it will be the second university with a BlackGen Capital chapter on campus.
“It is crucial to bring change to college campuses, especially in this era where the underrepresented are blatantly discriminated against,” Camara said. “I’m very appreciative of the time and effort that we’ve all put in because these students have really shown that they’ve benefited from what we’ve been able to give them. Ultimately, BlackGen is helping us and them advance our professional journeys.”