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Filmmaker Spike Lee Reflects on Building a Legacy

12/10/2008 --

Artist shares thoughts during Black Business Students Association Conference.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Citing the adage that you have to "crawl before you can walk," filmmaker Spike Lee encouraged members of the Ross School’s Black Business Students Association (BBSA) to pursue their dreams despite any stumbling blocks they might encounter.

Lee presented the keynote speech that capped the BBSA's 33rd Annual Alfred L. Edwards Conference in early December. He stepped away from the podium and walked among attendees as he shared the memory of realizing he lacked enough funds to produce the first film he wrote.

"I went to my studio apartment, filled up the bathtub and jumped in," Lee said. "And all the water that was going down the tubes was replaced by the tears coming out of my eyes."

Undaunted, Lee regrouped and wrote a new script that would be less costly to shoot. Day by day and dollar by dollar, he secured enough funding to shoot the critically acclaimed 1986 film She's Gotta Have It, which won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and launched his career. He went on to write and direct such films as Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and He Got Game, among many others. Lee attributes his ongoing success to many factors, but none more so than education.

"Our ancestors knew that education would be a way for us to get out of the bondage of slavery," he said. "Education has always been very important to me."

Lee also touched on the momentous 2008 presidential election: "From now on, we can divide history into three parts: B.B., D.B., and A.B.: 'Before Barack,' 'During Barack,' and 'After Barack,'" he said. "We're very lucky to be living in this time. We have a great responsibility to take advantage of this, to help shape and mold this movement."

As Ross business students prepare to launch their own careers, Lee encouraged them to "remember who made the sacrifices so that we could be here." He urged the MBAs and BBAs in attendance to follow his example and pursue their passions.

"Most people on this earth go to their grave working a job they hated their whole life," he said. “Being able to make a living doing what you love -- you're blessed. So it's very important to find out what it is you want to do, not necessarily what's going to make you the most money."

Conference participant Sara Jones, MBA '10, took those words to heart.

"It's been really insightful to hear all the alumni and the incredibly accomplished business leaders," she said. "They've given us great words of wisdom on how we can go out and seize our dreams and what steps we should take to get there."

The BBSA conference was founded in 1976 as a platform for African American alumni of the business school to share their experiences, knowledge, and insight with current students. In 2006, it was named for Dr. Alfred L. Edwards, a professor emeritus at Ross, whose career spanned more than 40 years. He joined the business school faculty in 1974 and was instrumental in promoting diversity and recruiting top minority students.

The theme of the 2008 BBSA conference was "Building Your Legacy: Achieving Personal, Professional, and Philanthropic Success." During the course of three days, attendees heard keynote speeches by Derek Ferguson, chief financial officer of Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group; Jim Reynolds, chairman and chief executive officer of Loop Capital Markets; and Lee.

The conference also featured workshops and panel discussions hosted by leaders in the fields of finance, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Students participated in a case competition and networked with Ross alumni and other professionals.

"We are honored and excited that not only Spike Lee, but also so many other accomplished leaders have agreed to join us and help each of us better understand how we can leverage our passions and unique experiences to make a lasting impact on the African American community," said Michael Pittman, MBA '09, and a conference co-chair.

—Leah Sipher-Mann

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847,