Next up in our AAPI Heritage Month Celebration of Creative Excellence we have My-Linh Tran, senior inclusive marketing and brand strategist at Code and Theory. Tran is a queer and trans Asian American who was born in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, but raised in the diverse cultural hub of Houston, Texas.
Tran is a passionate advocate for authentic queer and trans representation within the creative industry and in the broader society. (See their recent opinion piece on the subject as it relates to the AAPI community). Ultimately their goal is to spark necessary and impactful conversation around the issues and challenges faced by the queer and trans individuals, especially those who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, Latinx/e, and Asian Pacific Islander.
Here, Tran shares a memorable project they helped to realize while they were an associate account manager at Droga5 New York, Reform Alliance’s “Technically Illegal” campaign that illustrated the unfair rigidities of the parole and probation system that can trap the previously incarcerated in a seemingly inescapable cycle of imprisonment.
The project that has been the most impactful and meaningful for me in my career was the brand launch campaign for Reform Alliance called “Technically Illegal,” created while I was an associate account manager at Droga5 New York. Reform is a national advocacy organization that seeks to transform probation and parole.
The brief was to create awareness around the life-transforming advocacy and human justice work that Reform does and shed light on real-life stories of people who are stuck in a cycle of incarceration, probation and parole because of technical violations.
The heartbreaking statistic is every four minutes, someone on parole or probation is sent to prison for a technical violation. For example, an inability to find a job after prison might mean they can’t afford a necessary drug test or can’t pay court fees. Having to use on public transportation, which can be unreliable, might cause them to be late for a probation or parole appointment.
My role on this project was to work directly with the client teams as an account manager to drive the campaign forward while working alongside the internal cross-functional teams to shape the strategy and creative through an inclusive lens, from development to execution.
I engaged in thoughtful and intentional conversations with the teams to do a gut-check and ensure our approaches were inclusive and equitable for all communities from a cultural and nuanced perspective. There were definitely challenges in working on a project about the criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to probation and parole. It was not always simple or straightforward to know how to be inclusive and equitable for a very diverse group of people with very different needs and experiences.
This project was meaningful to me because it really opened up my eyes to the power of true advocacy by way of authentic and inclusive storytelling. The most important step was to ensure that we were intentional about hearing stories from a diverse group of individuals and their families. Alongside the client teams and the internal agency teams, I thoroughly emphasized diversity and inclusion for our outreach to people to interview—which meant inclusivity for race, gender (beyond the binary), sexuality, ability, neurodiversity, age, socioeconomic class and beyond.
The stories we heard were unfortunately ignored by society and left untold, especially for those who are systematically marginalized, oppressed and alienated. I am not saying that our team was the “‘white savior”—that would strip away the autonomy and voice of these people and their families. We simply held space and time for them and provided a national platform that amplified their stories to a wider audience. All in all, this project really cemented to me what it means to advocate for people and communities through inclusive, human-first storytelling.