From its origin in Galveston, Texas in 1865, Juneteenth commemorates African American emancipation in the U.S. Why do you think it has taken so long for this day to become a holiday?
I believe that slavery is an enormous travesty in American history that many choose to, at best, overlook and at worst, completely deny. Juneteenth took so long to become a holiday for the same reason we are debating CRT being taught in school – erasure. It’s like someone who repeatedly physically or emotionally abuses someone asking their victim for a clean slate with which to start over. When people avoid accountability, they avoid their misdeeds. Acknowledging Juneteenth means we’ve taken a step towards beginning to acknowledge the irreparable harm slavery has done to our country. It took the world standing at attention in the wake of watching George Floyd’s murder and demanding accountability for this day to get the national acknowledgment that it has always deserved.
Will you be giving space to people who wish to celebrate? How does observing this day create more awareness?
I’m proud to say that there are numerous events planned throughout Omnicom in recognition of Juneteenth. My agency, RAPP, is hosting a conversation with the esteemed Dr. Gianni Clark, who will guide us through the history of the Green Book, one of the most important documents in African American travel history and how it planted seeds for modern-day guerilla marketing. BBDO, another Omnicom agency, is hosting a film screening and panel for the documentary, “You Asked For the Facts: Bobby Kennedy at the University of Mississippi.” It’s the story of how four years after James Meredith became the first Black student to attend the University of Mississippi, student activists devised a plan to defy Mississippi’s “Speaker Ban” and bring Robert F. Kennedy to the University of Mississippi in 1966 to reveal the truth about his phone calls with former governor, Ross Barnett. Watch the trailer to the film HERE. Black Together, Omnicom’s first global Black ERG will be hosting “Black Parade,” an event focused on highlighting the incredible endeavors of our Black talent OUTSIDE of the office through entrepreneurship and community activism.
It’s important to acknowledge that for a large portion of the country, Juneteenth is still a relatively new concept and so it is imperative to both educate people on the significance of the day, as well as find a way to sincerely process its meaning. I love that there are endless possibilities for how we build awareness around the importance of Juneteenth. Black Texans have been celebrating Juneteenth since 1865 – we need to honor where we’ve been and where we come from so that we can move forward together.
Equal opportunity starts at the grassroots level and the structure of the advertising industry makes it extremely challenging for BIPOC to enter, without the right network. Do you have any programs in place to make it possible for underserved communities to access the industry?
One of the things that led me to RAPP is the agency’s overwhelming commitment towards infusing everything we do with DE&I. That means focusing on client work, through the incredible strategies being developed by Kyla Jones, Director of U.S Diversity Strategy Practice at RAPP, and her collaborators. That means outlining a comprehensive and progressive overall DE&I plan, brilliantly created by the agency’s Global Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion & Communications Officer, Devin O’Loughlin. Devin has put forth a plan for she and I to partner closely with each of our regional offices, U.S. and globally, HR, Learning & Development, Talent & Recruitment and leadership to create a multi-prong plan of attack. We are launching a sponsorship program for BIPOC talent in September. We are exploring thoughtful partnerships with both HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) and PWIs (primarily white institutions) in order to funnel in the next generation of marketing talent. We are also looking to reach the alumni communities at these schools in order to attract experienced talent. I can’t give away all of our secret sauce, but I can confirm that we are 100% committed to knocking down the numerous boundaries that block access to our industry for diverse talent of all kinds.
Do you think our industry is progressing well enough towards greater diversity at the executive level?
According to last year’s report in AdAge, “One of the benchmarks for progress is having the employee makeup be representative of the general population, so this would mean Black employees should be about 13% of the workforce in the U.S. None of the agencies come close to that threshold.” That means that among the top five advertising holding companies, we have missed the mark. I do believe that there are companies that are truly working towards greater diversity at all levels, and specifically, the C-suite. I do not believe that has come to fruition as quickly as it should, for a litany of reasons. There is a difference in a company posting a black square as a virtue-signal and a true commitment to equity.
What I can say with unflinching certainty is that it’s mission-critical for our industry to work harder at achieving representation and balance, because I’ve got first-hand knowledge of the difference it can make. Having a Black woman mentor who is the president of an agency has been life-changing for me. My personal and professional circles are made up of incredibly successful women of color. Those relationships have propelled me to a new place in my career and my biggest regret is that I didn’t meet them a decade sooner. Their guidance has enabled me to ascend to heights I didn’t know possible until they entered my life. We have a responsibility as an industry to offer that experience for all employees – finding someone with a shared experience that can help make the road a bit smoother for those who come after us.
During my interview for my role as Director of DE&I, my now-boss said the quiet part out loud – our executive leadership team is overwhelmingly white. Her making that callout to me before I had to say a word spoke volumes. I can’t speak for the industry as a whole, but I can wholeheartedly speak for RAPP when I say that although we have a long way to go, we are committed to doing the work to genuinely become the equitable company we want to be – and have a responsibility to be.