After a week in which numerous brands and agencies pledged to “listen and learn,” to “do better” and even to donate millions of dollars to the fight for racial justice, many people in boardrooms are realizing they don’t have the cultural competence to authentically address this moment.
Enter 13 young marketing fellows taking part in the Marcus Graham Project’s annual iCR8 summer bootcamp. Together, they represent Black, Asian, Latino, LGBTQ, biracial, first generation, multilingual and immigrant communities, and have launched their own agency at exactly the time when their voices are needed most.
Afternoon agency is a 10-week pop-up, and as with MGP bootcamps past, will work with several notable brands to craft social media strategy, web design and more. So far, MGP co-founder and CEO Lincoln Stephens said Apple is on board, with more companies being finalized.
The timing couldn’t be better. With racial justice protests reshaping the world, many advocates are wondering about ways to ensure equality for Black and other underrepresented communities over the long term, not just this week. One way to do that is through career development and wealth building.
“We understand that in building an agency, entrepreneurship is economic justice and a way to that freedom,” said Makisha Noël, copywriter at Afternoon. “Even going beyond the 10 weeks that we’re working together, this is something long term we’ll be able to build in our communities.”
Stephens said that for the fellows, one method of engaging in the fight driving protests right now is to reshape the advertising industry that he said has been resisting diversity and inclusion efforts since the 1960s.
“Their form of protest is creating this company to work with other companies to make sure their voices are heard,” Stephens said. “It’s recognizing to a certain degree that the injustices we face are economic. If a company has not been doing the job of retaining and hiring and training, they’re going to create their own organizations of belonging.”
Marcus Graham Project is a certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and aims to not only add to the pool of diverse talent in the industry, but to also provide a centralized way for hiring managers to find that talent.
“People keep on saying, ‘Where are the Black people?’ and we’re saying, ‘We’re here,'” said Stevens. He said that MGP lost $650,000 in commitments this year, and it has been challenging to watch “brands saying they’re doubling down on their investment [in Black communities] when they were actually taking money away” just recently.
The MGP cohort that comprises Afternoon speak more than 10 languages between them and represent a broad swath of backgrounds and cultures from different parts of the world. But one thing that all 13 have in common—which became clear during the agency’s virtual launch on Monday—is that they strongly believe that their voices and perspectives are needed right now. And if there is no seat for them at the table, they’re going to build a table of their own.
“Other industry pros have had the first half of the day to really make diversity, equity and inclusion a priority, but none have pushed far enough,” said brand manager Rasheed Owens.
During the launch, many of the fellows in the cohort acknowledged the current protests against police brutality and police killings of unarmed Black Americans. Owens said the group is “living through a moment in history that will shape society forever,” and offered a tribute to three of the people recently killed by police: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
“Right now Black people are simply fighting to be equal,” said social media strategist Amarachi Anozie.
Strategist Ryon Henderson said that Afternoon will remain focused on the long term goals of “authenticity and intersectionality” in its messaging.
“Brands will be upset for a few weeks and it will dissipate,” he said, who then paraphrased writer James Baldwin. “But to be Black in America is to always be in a state of rage.”