What is that mission now?
I feel like I have an opportunity to just do the work. I needed to reframe how I was looking at my role within this organization. I have done as much as I can, but I am not the future of the industry. I shifted my mindset. It is a weird and interesting burden; I don’t think any Black person wants to have to scream out at the top of their lungs. But I started looking at this opportunity as a ‘thank you’ to everybody who allowed me to get to this point.
I was raised by more DE&I people than creative directors. I never had the proper opportunity to have that guidance when I was on the agency side. I had to do so much on my own. They gave me a chance to say, ‘I should still be in this industry and fight my way to be a creative professional.' I feel I owe them that because this burden has been theirs to carry for a very long time. 600 is about Black talent first. We want to advocate for them and their best interest. We want to elevate them to their fullest potential. Wherever talented Black voices we want to make sure we support that.
When you lose focus on what brought you here, messes happen, and we have seen messes happen. If Black talent feels dissatisfied at their agency or are being harassed, we are still an organization you can come to and say, 'this is a terrible work environment,' and we will figure out how to help them. I don’t want to say 600 isn’t here for the ad agencies; it was born out of agency people, but it doesn’t tell the full picture of Black talent.
What has the process of rebuilding been like?
I was in my parents’ guest room at a desk for 13 to 14 months. I don’t want to say it was the easiest thing to reach back to partners like 4A’s after we made a splashy announcement with them; they were very hurt. We had those conversations as soon as we could because we recognize the mission was more important than who was running it.
There is no lighthouse for Black talent in the industry or companies who feel they may not have made inroads with the Black community in the way they should. This is mostly an infrastructure problem. No. 1 issue is wage equity. Agencies are starting to acknowledge that and restructure what salary bands look like. We want to empower Black talent on how to have those conversations with their agencies, make sure they have the receipts so to speak when it comes time for annual reviews, understand what it means to be more financially empowered. We are some of the most savvy people in business; we are people who influence the stock market, but we aren’t in touch with our ability to understand what a financial plan looks like for us when we are moving to a new market or taking a new job. We are holding fire to agencies to make sure they close the wage gap and work with partners that have engaged with us on wage equity.
We have been developing a study to use anonymous self-reported data to get the benchmarks for Black talent at this point. The equity study we are building out will show what the picture is looking like for Black talent for compensation, not just on the agency side. We are working with partners like We Are Rosie to address the freelance market. We are hoping to get at least this stuff out by June. The biggest Juneteenth goal is watching to see what agencies have to say about representation
One of the primary goals of 600 & Rising when it launched was to hold the industry accountable. Whose responsibility do you think that is now?
Anyone who has some sort of financial stake in the industry is responsible: activist shareholders, brands and also talent. For every executive who has said diversity is everybody’s business, I want to call bullshit, because it is put upon the DE&I leads.
What do you think of how the industry has responded to the Black Lives Matter movement over the past year?
It is very clearly a mixed bag. I always knew one year would be too soon for people to feel fully satisfied. The fact that Black talent feel comfortable telling us, ‘The agency I work for says it will support this creative idea and I feel empowered.' Then on the other hand we do this wage equity survey and agencies put out numbers and again we will also hear from talent who are dissatisfied. I don’t think anyone who is Black in this industry feels like what has happened over the past year has been enough. There are people who have gotten promoted over the past year and they are getting their voice heard; and then there are agency layoffs.
What do you hope to see a year from now?
A year from now I want people to really, really, really appreciate the need for outside voices for good. I want the sentiment from Black Americans and Black people who watch advertising content to come with a sense of pride. There is so much breakthrough work that can be created when you allow voices to come in and do the work; I want us to be part of that. It has to be about consumers. It is a service industry, and we haven’t been treating it like a service industry at all.
What do you hope for 600 & Rising?
I can only hope for grace to those who want to give it for me and the organization. There needs to be a lot of egos shed to make this work.