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The economy may be showing some signs of improvement but finding employment is still very difficult for many Americans–especially recent college graduates. That obstacle only increases for young professionals of color.

At the 15th Annual National Action Network Convention in New York City, a panel of Black professionals discussed some of the steps young, entry-level employees can take to ensure their professional future.

Interactive One’s Chief Technology Officer Navarrow Wright moderated the young professionals panel discussion, which touched on topics ranging from climbing the corporate ladder to mentorship.

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Panelist Tharon Johnson told attendees the expectations are higher for people of color to be better but also mentioned the importance of Black men maintaining their cool in high-pressure situations.

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“As Black men, we are constantly judged and constantly fighting images on TV,” the 35-year-old managing director said. “I have to dispel the angry Black man belief. So when I get upset, I just take a deep breath and count to three.”

White House Director of African-American Outreach Heather Foster said her biggest hurdle was knowing when to speak up and when to listen. She realized she had a lot to learn and had to earn her respect, but that meant walking a very fine line.

“How do you remain humble and respectful, but still command respect?” Foster asked.

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Entry-level professionals, college seniors, and retirees attended the hour-long panel discussion. While audience members probed the panel with a wide range of questions, most wanted to know the secrets to the panelists’ individual success in their careers.

The National Action Network’s Washington D.C. Bureau Chief Janaye Ingram spoke about the importance of mentoring, “Mentoring is critically important. Without having the mentors in my life, I’m sure I would not be sitting here on this panel. I grew up in Camden, N.J., one of the worst cities in the nation and I’m positive of this!”

Foster agreed.

“If you have the time to go to a Happy Hour, you have the time to tutor a student,” she said.

Arts and Entertainment Manager of Planned Parenthood Kristi Henderson said that we have to help our youth by also being an active member in their lives, and not just dictate to them what they’re doing wrong.

“Oftentimes, we tell them pull up their pants, you’re not doing this or that right,” Henderson said. “We can’t just preach to them. We have to teach them too.”

NAN Young Professionals Panel Says Mentors Are Key To Success  was originally published on