I often think about the key moment that shifted my personal trajectory. It happened in early 2011, when a friend from high school had discovered my Tumblr blog and hit me up to say, “You’d make a great copywriter.”
Maybe you couldn’t imagine my disbelief back then. I was a rebounding college dropout starting over at a community college, a former physics major who’d realized my love for storytelling slightly outweighed my obsession with the future. I was also a son of Jamaican immigrants, and taking up a creative writing degree would’ve negated all the STEM training they’d invested me in so I could have a stable job. Ah, well.
Hearing my friend’s advice, I realized that, of course: The people who made Bounty didn’t make its slogan. That famous line, “The quilted, quicker picker-upper,” came from a writer.
Duh, I thought. I could be that person.
How come there weren’t more of us? How come it took a bat signal of an event to bring us all to this space together?
Soon, I’d attend my first networking event, appropriately titled Where Are All the Black People? It questioned the lack of Black talent in advertising. That day, in the midst of beautifully brilliant Black peers, I saw a bit of myself in a creative director from my hometown of Far Rockaway, Queens. It turns out he’d made some of the commercials I remembered watching as a kid.
How come there weren’t more of us? How come it took a bat signal of an event to bring us all to this space together? I wanted to figure out the answer to those questions—and how I could become a copywriter with nothing but short stories and song lyrics in my portfolio.
Now, about a decade later, I’ve stepped away from advertising to carve out my own lane in the content space, but I haven’t stopped questioning the industry’s future. It’s been clear from my time working in agencies and covering them as a reporter that so much of the industry has been shaped and shaken by Black culture, but filtered through the lens of majority-white agency talent, and then pitched to their (also mostly white) startup and multinational clients, to media outlets that are just more of the same.
What could advertising look like when Black talent matters as much as our lives and culture do?
The possibility of this industry answering this question, and acting on it in a way that properly resonates with us, feels like something out of the lyrics of Janelle Monae’s ArchAndroid saga, or the Lindelof retelling of the Watchmen graphic novel: something we might only find in a work of Afrofuturism.
But it’s not impossible. In truth, there are many who’ve been building a new future, one where Black voices hold the same power as their white counterparts. As guest editor of this special digital package, I’m honored to work with Adweek to illuminate the way forward, showcasing some of the ideas and visionaries driving tomorrow today.
The future for Black talent is already here. No time like now to welcome it.
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Sourcing and recruiting
Talent is being nurtured and prepped by a plethora of organizations, and Troy Harris, who’s been groomed through four of these initiatives (and now leads the brand side of marketing at MailChimp), speaks on the foundation they’ve laid down.