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Scholarship Winner Reflects on Personal, Professional Growth Following Attendance at Annual AACUC Conference

Authored By: Lewis Wood on 8/17/2023

The Virginia League proudly sponsors an annual scholarship to the African American Credit Union Coalition's (AACUC) Annual Conference. The scholarship was established in honor of retired TruEnergy Federal Credit Union President/CEO Lynette Smith, a tireless credit union advocate and a champion for the credit union movement at both the state and national levels. She is a past chairwoman of the AACUC. 

We were pleased to award this year's Lynette Smith Scholarship to Chartway Credit Union's Melisande Corlett, who was so moved by the experience and opportunity, she's written the following post about the Annual Conference and what the networking opportunities and education sessions meant to her, personally and professionally.


Lynette Smith (left) Melisande Corlett (right) pictured in the Evergreen Ballroom at the 2023 AACUCIMAGE LEFT: Lynette Smith (left) and Melisande Corlett (right) pictured in the Evergreen Ballroom at the 2023 AACUC Annual Conference.

Where do I even begin to describe the AACUC Experience? Perhaps I’ll start with excellence personified and active agents of profound change.

In July, I was awarded the opportunity to attend the 25th Annual African American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC) Conference in Stone Mountain, Georgia as the sole recipient of the Lynette Smith Scholarship, funded through the Virginia Credit Union League (VACUL). Stone Mountain is a Confederate Memorial that has the faces of Civil War Generals Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis carved into the side. Stone Mountain was specifically chosen as the conference venue to inspire all attendees and portray the memorial from a perspective of power and a symbol of collective healing.

I arrived without expectations; but as the speakers delivered their keynote addresses and legacy lessons with passion and conviction, it didn’t take long before I allowed myself to be fully immersed in the experience and set expectations for each day I was present. Keynote speeches like Our History. Our Place., legacy lessons like There’s Something Wrong with the Village, and breakout sessions on Bridging the Gap for Career Support left memorable indentations on my psyche. I don’t attend conferences frequently, but I’m certain that the AACUC is far removed from the “typical” conference experience – the quality of information was effortlessly fused with sentiment and sincerity in a captivating way.

Melisande Corlett, Chartway Credit Union Commuinications Specialist, attends the #DEITuesday hosted dinner at the AACUC Annual Conference.IMAGE RIGHT: Melisande Corlett, Chartway Credit Union Commuinications Specialist, attends the #DEITuesday hosted dinner at the AACUC Annual Conference. 

The panel discussion Life in the C-Suite for Women of Color awakened my thirst for knowledge even more. The authenticity and transparency of each panelist was truly inspirational. It was there I learned that the C-Suite is not as glamorous as spectators may think and that oftentimes it can feel lonely. It was there I learned that women of color often struggle with acceptance at “the top” and may have to make drastic adjustments to make themselves more palatable. It was there I learned. I commend each panelist for sharing their life and experiences, and for taking the time to educate the audience on authenticity – one thing that is often “overused and underrated.”

The theme for the conference this year was Legacy. It was reassuring that “legacy” and “youth” were constantly used in the same sentence. Most, if not all, speakers who held the microphone emphasized that the younger generation is fundamental to the extension and execution of any legacy. It was refreshing to hear that the attendees were heavily invested in our youth. I was elated to find that representatives from credit unions across North America were in attendance with a purpose: to support, connect, and invest in the AACUC vision. The AACUC aspires to increase the strength of the global credit union community and support programs that offer benefits for African-American credit union professionals, volunteers, credit unions, and credit union vendor partners. The AACUC’s goals and objectives also include expanding interest and increasing the number of minorities in the credit union movement.

Conference attendees from different organizational levels mentioned their official titles in passing but those titles were set aside once we entered the Evergreen Ballroom, where the main events and festivities took place. That tone of humility was undeniably set by Renee Sattiewhite, President & CEO of the AACUC, and created an atmosphere that made it much easier for casual conversations and personal connections to form.

I think it’s safe to say that each representative is an expert in their field, but I felt as though I was conversing with my neighbor, rather than the CEO of a corporation. It’s true, the bonds you build and connections you make at the AACUC have the potential to last a lifetime. I’m so grateful to the VACUL for my scholarship ticket because I may have never had this experience without it. I’m grateful for the people I met, hands I shook, line dances we shared, and statistics we exchanged. The AACUC supercharged the passion that already lived inside of me – and I’ll definitely be back to sync and grow with the coalition.

On paper, the AACUC experience is fueled by professionals and great minds of all ages, from different states with a wide range of titles that come together for a special annual occasion – but in person, it feels like home to me.

See you next year in Las Vegas! And if you apply for the Lynette Smith Scholarship and are fortunate enough to receive it, we’ll see you next year, too.

AACUC Attendees at the HBCU-Themed Young Professionals Night!IMAGE LEFT: AACUC Attendees at the HBCU-Themed Young Professionals Night


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