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On MLK Day, Twitter launched an OOH campaign featuring celebrities’ affirmation tweets. It was a huge success, featuring many Black celebrities. And even though I loved this campaign, I want Black people to know: You are more than.
For generations, media representation has shaped the lives of Black kids and the perception of Black people in America. Either you are LeBron James, Issa Rae, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Jay-Z, Beyoncé—or you’re not worth mentioning.
This message is received early in the lives of young Black kids, and it can be destructive. Pop culture pushes the narrative that you can be an entertainer or an athlete, but not a scholar.
It’s time to challenge that image.
Aspiring for more
As a poor kid in a rural part of southern Mississippi, there were no opportunities outside of sports. We grew up wanting to be famous because we were told that was the only way to be successful. At the age of 15, I was an entertainer with a record deal thinking that I’d made it.
Within five years, that record deal was gone. I went back to my hometown filled with depression for months because I thought my life was over.
Here we are in our early 20s thinking we are done because that’s what the media has led us to believe. Let’s challenge the media to think differently, proceed with caution and be considerate when telling these stories.
The media plays a vital role in the mental well-being of young people, particularly within the Black community, so TV commercials and brand campaigns must really be thought through carefully. These are real people who we should be encouraged to aspire for more than—because they are.
Different faces on a billboard
What would the Twitter campaign have looked like had it used someone who heads up global social media at a Fortune 500 tech company, or an entrepreneur who makes puzzles that promote Black representation in children’s media? Or perhaps a tech CEO who empowers young women of color to study STEM, or a first-generation college graduate who became an engineer and now works on self-driving software? Or any regular Black person who’s not a celebrity.
It’s time to tell the complete story, and here’s how the media can help:
- Hire more overlooked candidates for culture add instead of culture fit. Work together on creating inclusive content.
- Diversify your speaker lineup at events.
- Invest in overlooked startups that are trying to solve real issues in their communities.
- Invest in people who are showing the initiative but have not been given the opportunity.
At age of 30, after leaving the entertainment world, an ally gave me another opportunity: my first job in tech. It changed my life. Redefine the meaning of success by telling stories that feature many different depictions of what success can look like.
You don’t have to be famous to be successful. Black people are more than entertainers and athletes. We are presidents, CEOs, engineers, community leaders, writers, marketers, founders, creators, politicians, doctors, lawyers, dentists, chefs, teachers, fathers, mothers and so much more.
Let’s deliver a different message to the Black community: You are more than.