600 & Rising president stumbles with criticism of ADCOLOR
Since Nathan Young and Bennett D. Bennett founded 600 & Rising in June, their nonprofit has made considerable headway in encouraging agencies to take concrete action toward addressing systemic racism in the industry. The organization’s #CommitToChange campaign has prompted a number of agencies and holding companies to share their diversity data—not just for overall staff, but also for leadership positions. Such information is crucial to holding the industry accountable on its promises to increase equity for people of color.
But yesterday, the organization stumbled when Young, its president, tweeted a criticism about the ADCOLOR awards, the advertising fete that has long celebrated the achievements of diverse industry professionals as well as work that has promoted diversity and inclusion.
“@ADCOLOR is an awards ceremony completely divorced from reality that sells the story that progress is being made on diversity in advertising and buys cover for holding companies,” he wrote.
The ADCOLOR organization was founded in 2005 by Tiffany R. Warren, who since February 2009 has also served as SVP-chief diversity officer at Omnicom. ADCOLOR has also strived to promote diversity and inclusion through mentoring programs including FUTURES, geared toward identifying and nurturing promising diverse talents.
Young’s tweet sparked blowback from the industry, including those asserting that their careers have thrived thanks to ADCOLOR. Those include veteran media exec Michele Thornton Ghee, an ADCOLOR board member and former winner of the organization’s “Change Agent” honor.
"The work that the people of Adcolor have put in to clear a path for POC’s is undeniable," she wrote. "I’m one of them. Then I hired people who look like me. Oh and now I have a firm that demands equity in the marketplace."
Others saw a point to the issue Young brought up.
“I mean ... you’re not wrong,” wrote Jennifer Ekeleme, founder of JennZen Co-Creation Studio. “This is a HARD conversation b/c I think we all like to believe that the celebration of survival in the industry solves problems ... but we know it doesn’t. I’m open to having a town hall about this.”
Ad Age reached out to ADCOLOR founder Warren, who declined to provide comment.
By yesterday's end, Young was apologetic about his statement in multiple subsequent tweets. “I didn't make my critique of @ADCOLOR in the right way,” he wrote in one. “It felt like an attack, and of all orgs, @ADCOLOR doesn't deserve that."
Ad Age reached out to Young for comment today but he deferred to a statement provided by 600 & Rising's PR.
"As a co-founder of 600 & Rising, I am holding myself accountable to the Black talent and non-Black allies in the advertising and public relations industries who have trusted us to fight for change," he said. "Our initial Call for Change open letter would not have been possible without their voices and support, and it is critical that we make space for them to be heard, reflected and respected in everything we do on our journey to battle systemic racism in the industry. I also want our peers—especially, the Black womxn who have been fighting this fight long before 600 & Rising was created—to know that I admire them and only hope to be able to add to the meaningful progress they've made. The extensive work and contributions to the cause by Black womxn cannot be erased nor overlooked.”
The organization this afternoon also sent out an email to its 3,800 Black and non-Black signatories, assuring that it supports "true equality and equity," gives "space to intersectional experiences," is collaborative and believes in transparency and real action.
Earlier this morning, 600 & Rising’s Bennett released his own apologetic statement on Twitter, saying he could not stand by his co-founder's actions and asking the community "to continue to challenge us two Black men and the people standing with us on our board and advisory council to do right by you."
Young’s admitted misstep brings to light the challenge of unifying diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—any social justice efforts, for that matter—among people and organizations of differing approaches and backgrounds who are striving for the same goal.
But from dialogue can come progress. As Curaleaf CMO and former Apple/Beats by Dre exec Jason White tweeted, “Lots of us old folks here to help. Hit me. We need the energy. We just need it pointed in the right direction. Let’s build."
Contributing: Lindsay Rittenhouse