One hundred years ago, a young determined Black woman from Louisiana applied to Columbia Business School. When Theodora Fonteneau Rutherford was admitted and became the first Black graduate of CBS, she changed the course of history and paved the way for many to follow.

Students, alumni, faculty, and friends who followed her path gathered February 7 for the kick-off of 100/50: Embracing Our Legacy, a yearlong celebration marking the 100th anniversary of Rutherford’s matriculation and the 50th anniversary of the Black Business Students Association (BBSA). The event was designed to honor the trailblazers of the past, educate others about their experiences, and celebrate the impact of Black excellence at CBS over the past century. Stories collected for the event were shared in a video reflecting on the early days of the BBSA and the safe space it created for Black students.

Opening the livestreamed kickoff event, Hayley Mason ’24 encouraged the crowd to “pay homages for the sacrifices that allow us to be in this space, striving for better for ourselves and our community.”

In conjunction with the 100/50 celebration, a digital history archive to collect more alumni stories and continue to commemorate the Black experience at CBS is underway.

Following the 100/50: Embracing Our Legacy kickoff event, the BBSA Elevate conference was held March 31–April 1 (see “Honoring Black Business Leaders” below), and on May 12, a DEI Research Roundtable convened preeminent diversity, equity, and inclusion academics and industry practitioners to discuss bridging theory and practice to enhance current DEI leadership strategies.

Watch the 100/50: Embracing Our Legacy kickoff event here:

Honoring Black Business Leaders and Their Legacies

On March 31 and April 1, Elevate, the oldest student-led conference at Columbia Business School, took part in the 100/50 celebration in honor of the 100th anniversary of the first matriculated Black student, Theodora Rutherford, and the 50th anniversary of the BBSA. Held in David Geffen Hall, the event explored the theme “Epic Ascents: Breaking Barriers & Reaching New Heights,” honoring the legacies of Black business leaders who carved their own paths and showcasing the ways current Black business leaders continue to carve paths in innovative ways today.

Robert F. Smith '94, right, speaks at Elevate.
Robert F. Smith '94, right, speaks at Elevate. 

Several CBS board members delivered powerful keynotes during the conference, including Robert F. Smith ’94, who is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners; Tracey T. Travis ’86, executive vice president and CFO at The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.; and Erika Irish Brown ’98, who is the chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer and global head of talent at Citi. The event provides an annual opportunity for Black business leaders and their allies to share their career journeys and personal perspectives, discuss challenges, reflect on opportunities, and honor the achievements of industry giants.