Community gathers to celebrate Black alumni achievement

M. Michelle Purnell-Hepburn, Dean Frank Hodge pose with honorees Skyler Brown and Professor William D. Bradford.

The UW Foster School of Business Annual Celebration of Black Alumni Achievement honored Professor William D. Bradford, Ph.D. with the Spratlen Legacy Award and Skyler Brown (MBA 2019) with the Emerging Leader Award in a joyous ceremony held at the Husky Union Building on Feb. 8.

The annual event, now in its 21st year, serves to honor leaders within the community and raise funds to support the Association of Black Business Students (ABBS) Scholarship and the African American Heritage Endowed MBA Fellowship. In attendance was Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and former Frtizky Chair in Leadership and Spratlen Legacy Award winner Joanne Harrell.

Professor Bradford shared how his life had parallels to Thaddeus Spratlen, though it took years for them to connect. When they did, Bradford said, “It was a joy, and it was a learning experience. He encouraged me to continue my research and my teaching” in ways to support Black businesses.

Bradford continues to do so today and pledged to stay the course. “I’m going to continue to build for those who come behind us. I am going to continue as long as I can. Because it is too important to stop now.”

Skyler Brown and Professor William D. Bradford share their wish for the Black community at Foster

Brown graciously thanked his professors at Foster, saying “I am a product of their work.” He presented the audience with what he referred to as the “Naomi Sanchez challenge,” in honor of the late former Assistant Dean, MBA Career Services. “Naomi built bridges with people who didn’t look like her, who didn’t think like her,” resulting in Foster being one of the most welcoming institutions in higher education, Brown said. “I challenge us to continue building bridges.”

Ahlam Kahleefa

Opening remarks were delivered by current Foster students Ahlam Kahleefa, a Foster undergraduate student who serves as Co-President of Black @ Foster and President of the Association of Black Business Students and Perry L. Couch Jr. (MBA 2026), as well as Associate Dean for Inclusion & Diversity M. Michelle Purnell-Hepburn.

“Tonight is about community – strengthening, and more importantly, celebrating our community,” said Purnell-Hepburn, and she led the audience in singing the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Hepburn spoke of how the school is rising to the challenge of ensuring a diverse student body given legal prohibitions against affirmative action, including programs such as Young Executives of Color, Business Bridge, Building Networks and the Young Women’s Leadership Summit, Fostering MBA Access, and the MBA Women’s Brunch.

“We can advance the University of Washington’s vision of becoming a more diverse and equitable campus community. We are a shining example for those that are just learning how they will overcome this barrier,” referring to the US Supreme Court affirmative action decision in 2023 and Initiative-200 that passed in 1998.

Hepburn was followed by Dean Frank Hodge who cited such programs as examples of giving everyone an equal opportunity to excel and spoke to the importance of providing opportunities to traditionally underrepresented communities “in the room” to achieve equality. “It is my hope that Foster’s Black community continues to be in every room so that they have an equal opportunity to thrive and make us all better tomorrow than we are today,” he said.

The ceremony was attended by over 200 students, faculty and staff, who enjoyed food and drink from Black-owned businesses including WithStyle Catering, Frichette Winery, and the Métier Brewing Company, one of the few Black-owned breweries in the country.

Following the award presentations, attendees took to the dance floor, mingled, and networked. Organizers intentionally set a celebratory tone in which new and old friends could enjoy one another’s company in a professional yet relaxed atmosphere.

Corporate sponsors included Amazon, KPMG, RSM, Deloitte, EY, Boeing, Moss Adams, PwC, Equal Opportunity Schools, and additional organizations and individual donors. Additional money was raised through donations made at the event, with funds going directly to support Black student scholarships at the Foster.

Photo credits: HeadshotSEA