UCLA faculty members and business professionals discussed ways to encourage more racial and ethnic diversity at the university level and in various professional fields at a panel Wednesday.

“Education and being a lifelong learner is absolutely – and by absolutely, I mean the only – equalizer for us,” said Malcolm Johnson, a senior vice president at JPMorgan Chase and a panelist at the event.

The event, hosted by the Black Business Student Association, occurred on the backdrop of an initiative launched by President Barack Obama called “My Brother’s Keeper,” which seeks to help young men and boys of color succeed in school, among other goals.

In February, President Obama announced that various philanthropies and charities have pledged $200 million over the next five years to help fund the initiative.

More than 200 attendees gathered to listen to panelists, including Johnson, Judy Olian, the dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, and Richard Downer, the first vice president of Morgan Stanley. Ramsey Jay, Jr., a motivational speaker, moderated the panel.

“Our focus is just really to show undergraduate students of color: ‘Look, here are professionals who are just like you. They came from the same neighborhoods, same backgrounds and have ended up becoming very successful,’” said Derek Hoskin, a fourth-year Afro-American studies student and the vice president of the association.

The Black Business Student Association aims to help students obtain careers in business by connecting them with mentors within the field, hosting workshops and sharing job opportunities with members.

During the discussion, the panelists discussed their backgrounds and the importance that education has played in their lives.

“I’m the daughter of Holocaust survivors. My mother made sure no matter what … that we had access to educational opportunities.” Olian said. “(You can) turn adversity into advantage.”

Downer described his experience in navigating the corporate world at Morgan Stanley and the importance of having mentors when trying to achieve success in a professional career.

Jonli Tunstall, the director of UCLA’s VIP Scholars Program, said people of color need to be aware of the intricacies of the educational system, and feel empowered to change it so that racial and ethnic minorities have equal access to education.

Some of the event’s attendees said they appreciated the panel’s emphasis on the importance of education.

Kafayat Adebiyi, a first-year psychobiology student, said she thinks that retention is a key issue the university needs to focus on, particularly in regard to underserved communities. She added that she thinks the UCLA community needs to create a more inclusive environment for students of color.

About 4 percent of UCLA’s undergraduate students are black and 18 percent are Hispanic, according to fall 2013 UCLA enrollment statistics.

“Sometimes, you question yourself and wonder whether you deserve to be here,” Adebiyi said.

Other students said they hoped the panelists served as role models for some of the students in the audience.

“I was excited for them to see people of color and have these panelists empower them to achieve those goals,” said Cynthia Ezechukwu, the director of finance for the Black Business Student Association and a third-year economics student.

Email Nguyen at jnguyen@media.ucla.edu.