Intention Meets Opportunity: How Black Talent Builds Community

Increasing chances for success

Early exposure helped guide opportunity—and success—in the industry. Illustration by Jordan Moss for Adweek
Headshot of Troy Harris

I’m not supposed to be here.

From my time growing up in Atlanta all the way into my freshman year at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, my perspective was always rooted in Blackness. Black faces, Black ideas, Black problems, Black solutions. I thrived in that incubator for years, giving and taking from “the culture” we all love, but there was one thing persistently missing: Black opportunity. 

Florida A&M—or FAMU, to those who know it well—is one of the many outstanding HBCUs without an advertising program. So for me, Madison Avenue was a distant concept, something I knew only from movies like Boomerang and What Women Want. 

Those movies were my “access,” and from the outside looking in, I saw an industry built on collaborative mind-melding: a utopian mix of business and creativity where the best idea could win. It looked awesome, and to be frank, I had some ideas of my own I wanted to throw in that mix. I knew where I was headed; I just didn’t know how to get there. So I did what I could, studying marketing and sociology in college, Frankensteining my way to my North Star, all the while keeping my head on the swivel for that ever-elusive Black opportunity.

Over a decade later, I now spend my days collaborating and mind-melding at that very same corner of business and creativity I’d set out to join. It wasn’t always this cut and dried, though. There were plenty of supportive people and programs along the way that helped make this happen. And because of their dedication to intention, I was able to forge opportunities to grow. 

OK, back to FAMU, where, like everyone else in the School of Business and Industry, I was looking for a summer internship. Roles in finance, accounting and supply-chain management weren’t for me, but advertising was. I knew it, even if I didn’t know how I’d get there. 

So I did what anyone would do next: I literally Googled “advertising internship,” found MAIP, applied and was accepted in 2012. The 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program has spent over 40 years showing people like me (there are almost 4,000 of us now) the far-reaching implications of professional exposure. MAIP gives young, diverse talent the chance to show up and work, even in spaces that haven’t always had our best interest at heart. That same summer, they named me Intern of the Year. 

And then the momentum started to build.

As a reward for the distinction, MAIP sent me to the Adcolor Conference that fall as a member of its inaugural Adcolor Futures class, which had been built out by Haywood Watkins III. He had been MAIP’s Intern of the Year the summer before me and created the Futures program to offer additional support for up-and-coming talent. The Adcolor Conference, of course, is the annual flagship gathering of the creative industries in the name of championing diversity and inclusion.

It was this early exposure to seeing us come together and celebrate ourselves that first afforded me a glimpse into how our futures could take shape collectively. 

“In advertising, there seem to be those more interested in controlling diverse talent than nourishing it,” Watkins told me recently when I asked him about building Futures. “I gained so much from Adcolor; I wanted to provide that opportunity to other young people.”

And that’s the thing about that word “opportunity”: If you’re moving with intention, your next big thing can literally be right under your nose.

@TroyDubois Troy Harris II of Grits & Gospel is a Cannes-winning marketer and graduate of Florida A&M University.