A first of its kind event at the White House on Monday was all about inspiring the next generation of leaders and business people.

The South by South Lawn event, a take on the successful South by Southwest Festival held annually in Austin, Texas, brought together experts in technology, film, music and other fields. For one Triangle college student, it was the trip of a lifetime.

For one day, the South Lawn of the White House transformed into a mecca for music and art as well as discussions about technology, innovation and social justice.

North Carolina Central University student Kelli Johnson was among several students from Historically Black Universities in the Triangle who attended the one day conference. The event was billed as a festival of ideas, art and action and Johnson said she came away inspired.

“The possibilities are endless,” Johnson said. “I think if I can take what I learn and use it to have my own entrepreneur start up, I think that would be great.”

The event brought together experts in a wide range of disciplines all sharing their ideas for a better world.

Durham based nonprofit Black Wall Street and The American Underground were behind the students’ trip to the South by South Lawn event. One of the founders, Dee McDougal, said her message to the students was to start thinking about what’s possible.

“As they are starting to think about their careers, start thinking about what problems you can solve. The folks that are developing these new technologies, they’re figuring out ways to solve problems,” McDougal said. “The extraordinary is possible.”

The message and the goals of South by South Lawn resonate with Johnson.

“We’re the future generation of entrepreneurs so if we get more opportunities like that, we can conquer the world,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she hasn’t settled on what type of business she wants to start but said that once she figures it out she will follow her dream, backed by her business marketing degree from NCCU. She is set to graduate in 2017.


Reporter: Ken Smith
Photographer: Greg Clark
Web Editor: Janine Bowen