Morgan Prewitt, CMP, didn’t even realize she could make a living as an event organizer until late in her studies at Howard University, but once she had a plan, there seemed to be no stopping her.
The 2012 graduate, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, already has worked as a planner for an association, a nonprofit, and a convention center. Since last fall, she has been a Chicago-based event marketing manager for a major technology company. (In keeping with her company’s policy, Convene cannot disclose its name.)
During her time at Chicago’s McCormick Place, Prewitt was named to both PCMA’s 20 In Their Twenties Class of 2017 and the Crain’s Chicago Business 20 In Their Twenties Class of 2017. “That was absolutely amazing,” she told Convene. “And I don’t take for granted these times in my life. Being recognized for my efforts made it a little bit easier to understand that even though I was young, I did belong where I was.”
Prewitt, who earned a CMP in 2016, recognized two early work experiences that schooled her in the events industry and inspired her to pursue a career in it — a five-month internship at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. and getting involved with PCMA’s Capital Chapter. She shared her career journey, starting off with those experiences.
Interning at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center: I worked … under the vice president of communications and marketing, Chinyere Hubbard, who is one of my mentors in life. She is an absolutely amazing, strong individual. She graduated from my alma mater. I thought, “This is who I want to be.”
She would bring me into these giant meetings with all these execs. … She would make sure that I was in the room and that I understood that to be a woman — to be a Black woman — at the table was super important. At that point I had no idea what they were talking about, but she made sure I had an understanding of the depths of what goes on at the convention center. I appreciated that and I am incredibly grateful to her.
Discovering PCMA: I actually knew nothing about PCMA or that I could work in the events industry before my final year at Howard. I had planned very large events [at Howard] but I hadn’t considered I could do it as a career. It was just something I enjoyed doing … and I was good at it. Project management and kind of organizing everything is my jam.
My senior year I saw a flyer for a meeting of an organization called PCMA. I’m said to myself, “What is this? . . .” The meeting had a great panel, including one person, Tyra Dyson [CMP, DES, manager, event logistics for APIC (the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology)], who is my mentor to this day. They were talking about the events industry, everything under the hospitality umbrella, and what you could do in those industries. I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m majoring in marketing and classical piano, but I’m really good at planning events — and I can make money from this!” So I got involved with the student group of the PCMA Capital Chapter in my senior year.
[Tyra Dyson] brought me in and made sure I had all the tools to know what I wanted to do within the industry. No matter what I needed in the beginning of my career, and I needed a lot, she was always there. She and PCMA … brought me into the industry.
Everyone at the Capital Chapter was absolutely amazing to help [me as a] student; they were super helpful. I remember my first meeting was at the Hotel Monaco and I was scared, but everyone was just incredibly welcoming. They also helped me find my first post-grad job.
First Job: Meetings, Exhibits and Sales Coordinator at the Council for Exceptional Children: At that point in my life, that was my dream job. Throughout my life, I had volunteered with children with special needs. … I’m very passionate about it. … [That job also] was my introduction to the world of associations. Who knew there were thousands upon thousands of associations for anything and everything under the sun?
I was there for two years, and I was 22 or 23 years old. We worked on one annual event, and I was working from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. I thought, “Associations are great, but I want that fast-paced event life that I see on TV. I want to wear jeans to work. I want to travel all over. I want to have multiple events a year. I don’t want to just work on one event a year. I want all of it.” Lo and behold, I got exactly what I asked for [in my next job].
‘Know When Enough Is Enough’
Morgan Prewitt’s three career tips, from her on-the-job experiences.
- Manifest in what you want to do, because that’s how it works for many. Right now, make a plan on how to get there. That’s what a lot of people don’t tend to do. They write down what they want to do, but they don’t consider how they are going to do it.
- Understand if you’re there, there’s a reason you’re there. You may have imposter syndrome, and it’s okay to be unsure. But always remember that you really do belong there. It’s okay to think those thoughts, but don’t let them linger too long.
- Know your boundaries and know when to say “no.” Because you will be the only one advocating for yourself. It’s important in this industry because people will work you as hard as you are willing to give. Know when enough is enough — physically, mentally, in and every other way.
Senior Conference/Event Associate at Management Leadership for Tomorrow: Our team traveled [for an event] every two weeks in some months. And I thought, “I’m going to go all over the country. I’m going to see places. … It sounds so amazing!” I got to wear jeans to work, I got everything I wanted. And I was grateful for that. But living out of a suitcase gets old pretty fast. You don’t know that when you first start. I just had all this energy that I wanted to give the world of events … but it was just too much. … We were probably planning three to five events at a time, and always traveling.
Event Manager, McCormick Place: Growing up in Cleveland, I always wanted to move to Chicago. And once I started this career, I said I wanted to work for one of two places in Chicago: United Center or McCormick Place. I am still in awe and amazed that years after I put that out into the world, at 25 years old I was working there with people who had been in the industry as long as I’d been alive.
I did roughly 15 to 20 events a year that were as small as 100 people to as large as 70,000 people. My favorite event at McCormick Place was a show called Complex Con. It was a music fest, but also had an expo component, and we had around 20,000 attendees over two days. Everybody has a career event that they will never forget that changed them. … It taught me what I can do when it comes to problem-solving. Every single day, they challenged me to think outside the box. … Doing this event showed me that even though this is what I’d been taught, I have to go outside that in order to make this event work at this center.
One of her future goals: I am part of the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Taskforce in PCMA’s Greater Midwest Chapter. And it means a lot doing the work to make a positive change in our industry. So my next career goal is to merge my profession with my passion for inclusion and making sure that young women who want to grow, in a business sense, have the room or space they need. It is similar to what Chinyere and Tyra did for me. I want to make sure that I am paying it forward.
Why it’s important for the events industry to lead the way in diversity, equity, and inclusion: I owe my successes to seeing that PCMA flyer. Outside of my mentors, I am where I am because someone from PCMA decided to drop a flyer at a historically Black university because they believed that the events industry needed more people of color. And I have made it to where I am because of that one flyer.
That is why diversity in this industry is so important, because it is me. And I don’t see enough [people like] me, at all. But I know there’s more in the pipeline, there’s more to come. Representation matters; that is how you create better, broader, and brighter ideas for the future. I want to be the one to push, to make sure that we are talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
One time (of many) she faced racial discrimination within the industry: I am very comfortable with wearing my hair in its natural state, but I used to not be. And there is a reason behind it. … I used to straighten my hair all the time, because that’s what I felt most comfortable doing. But for the first time in my life, I wanted to wear my hair naturally, so I did.
I was approached by two people I knew and one said, “You know, Morgan, you look like, uh… .” And while they were trying to figure out who I looked like, I thought I had heard it all so I wasn’t going to be surprised. And then they said, “Obama’s dog.”
That was the most hurtful thing to date that I have heard — comparing me to an animal. And they saw no problem with it. And I was much, much younger, and didn’t know how to react or what to say. It was just very confusing for my young mind. I would’ve reacted a tad differently today and corrected them on that statement. From that comment on, I started to wear my hair straight again. It wasn’t until a couple years ago, someone made me feel very comfortable, at work, actually, telling me how pretty my natural hair was. Since then, I have rarely straightened my hair.
Curt Wagner is digital editor of Convene. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.