As part of Black History Month, Amazon hosted its first-ever conference for students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)—“Beyond the Yard: Your Path, Your Future.” The conference brought Amazon HBCU alumni and 225 students from 42 HBCUs together in Nashville to learn, connect, and think big about their future path. The HBCU students we hosted for this event were a remarkable group. Whether they eventually work for Amazon or not, this was a proud step taken to champion a more inclusive workforce.

The three-day conference was crafted to be a career exploration experience with elements of culture and history woven throughout—including performances by the historic Fisk University Jubilee Singers and Tennessee State University’s world-renowned "Aristocrat of Bands" drumline. Culminating in a step show by Amazon’s Black Employee Network, the weekend was a celebration of some of the brightest young minds in the country.

“We want to make sure you know you are seen, you are heard, you belong here, and we are grateful for you,” said Amanda Baker-Lane, principal program manager, diversity and inclusion, who co-led event planning for the conference.

Attendees participated in workshops facilitated by Amazon HBCU alumni at various stages of their careers, designed to help students develop existing talents and skills and create new skillsets—from interview practice and resume writing to honing their personal brand and career path. Participants had direct access to Amazon leaders so they could ask questions about Amazon’s peculiar culture, paths for careers, and opportunities for entrepreneurs.

The 2020 "Beyond the Yard" event brought together students from 42 HBCUs

"Beyond the Yard" Amazon and HBCU event, 2020

“Coming to the Amazon Beyond the Yard Conference was one of the best decisions I have made to mold and develop my professional career,” said Robert Mercer, computer science major, Howard University.

The conference was held in Nashville as a nod to both the rich history of HBCUs in Tennessee and Amazon’s ongoing investment in the downtown Nashville. In November 2018, Amazon announced it had selected Nashville for a new hub for its Operations business, which is responsible for the company’s customer fulfillment, transportation, and supply chain. In downtown Nashville, the company will create more than 5,000 new jobs for a variety of roles in fields such as software development, engineering, finance, legal, and human resources.

“Amazon recognizes the unique role HBCUs play for educating, nurturing and reinforcing excellence, and this is why creating an event that reflects and celebrates this excellence is so important,” said Elizabeth Nieto, global director of Diversity and Inclusion for Amazon.

The conference was further evidence of Amazon’s growing investment in the HBCU community, following their 2018 commitment to US congresswoman Alma Adams’ HBCU Partnership Challenge. In January, Amazon Studios welcomed their first cohort of students for the Howard Entertainment Program to their Culver City, CA studios, where students have unique interdisciplinary curriculum, coupled with hands-on work experiences and networking with Amazon’s industry partners.