In May 1989, Robert M. Sellers, Todd C. Shaw, Robert Brown, Daria Kirby, Lisa Brown, and Thomas LaVeist, graduate students at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor planned and hosted a national conference to “address some of the issues that the African American community faced.” Sellers, the planning committee chairperson stated that the National Black Graduate Student Conference (NBGSC) was designed to “provide an opportunity for African American graduate students to develop professionally as well as serve as a forum for future researchers and academic professionals.” The first NBGSC, Social Science Research on Black America allowed black graduate students from across the country to participate in paper presentations, professional workshops, and roundtable discussions dealing with critical issues relating to the professional development of African American students and the black community. The conference had attendees from over twenty-five universities, including the University of Kentucky, Howard University, Northern Illinois University, California State University, Los Angeles, Case Western Reserve University, and Texas A & M University.
With the help of the Office of Minority Affairs at the University of Michigan, the conference planning committee was able to host a successful three-day event. James S. Jackson, Associate Dean and Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan credited the black graduate students with contributing to the university’s commitment to the “value of diversity in intellectual inquiry and teaching.” Dr. Jackson acknowledged that the “overwhelming response and involvement of graduate students across the country is a testament to the need and importance of this meeting.” As result of the NBGSC, the conference attendees decided to create a national organization that would address the many issues concerning black graduates that were given attention during the historic meeting. The National Black Graduate Student Association (NBGSA) was established at the end of the national conference in 1989. Todd C. Shaw, doctoral student at the University of Michigan was elected the first national president. His executive board consisted of Jacqueline M. Davis, graduate student at Mississippi State University as Vice-President, Donna Cochran, graduate student at the University of Michigan as Recording Secretary, Barbara Gates, doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan as Corresponding Secretary, and Minora Sharpe, graduate student at Pennsylvania State University as Treasurer.
During the second NBGSC, Global Perspective on Black Cultures at Mississippi State University in May 1990, the conference participants voted to incorporate the association in the State of Mississippi. Dr. Phyllis Gray-Ray, Associate Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State University was selected to serve as the National Advisory Chair to the Association. She would later become the first and only Executive Director of NBGSA. In 1994, NBGSA’s executive board decided that Mississippi State University should be the home for the national headquarters. It served as the permanent location for the Executive Office for three years. The headquarters of the NBGSA followed the career of Dr. Gray-Ray. In 1997, Dr. Gray-Ray accepted a visiting professorship at North Carolina Central University and the executive board voted to move the headquarters temporarily to North Carolina. A few years later, Dr. Gray-Ray subsequently took a position at Jackson State University. Again, the executive board elected to move the Executive Office to Jackson State University where it remained until 1999.
In 1999, Dr. Gray-Ray resigned as Executive Director of NBGSA. Michael A. Powell, Esq. and Dr. Sharron V. Herron took over the position as executive directors for the organization. During the twelfth annual NBGSC, Facing the Challenge: Black Leadership 2000 and Beyond at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the executive board bestowed the title of Executive Director Emeritus on Dr. Phyllis Gray-Ray at the conference. The national headquarters, with the aid of Dean Orlando Taylor was moved in the summer of 2000 to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where it still remains.