Amplifying the industry’s Black voices for Black History Month

Each day during Black History Month, Gavin Barrett has been posting short LinkedIn profiles of Black talent within the Canadian marketing-communications industry.

We first wrote about his project (now in year three) earlier this month, and want to share some more of the profiles today, the last working day of Black History Month.

The series is a way to increase BIPOC visibility and amplify their voices in an industry that it still more white than it should be. It’s a celebration of their accomplishments despite the systemic barriers that exist. This is an industry that proudly celebrates the success of individuals, Barrett told us, “but it’s not allowed if you are a person of colour; it’s not allowed if you are Black.”

Read some of the profiles Barrett wrote below, read our earlier article here, and follow Barrett on Linkedin to see all his profiles from the past month.

Teaunna Gray, filmmaker, repped by The Corner Store Films

Teaunna speaks openly about her “life-long struggle and commitment gaining confidence in my Afro-Indigenous identity—and then to be a womxn on top of that.” For years, she felt she had to diminish herself so as not to ruffle the feathers of non-Black people. Now she sets boundaries when dealing with racism and microaggressions. “It takes work, but it’s a beautiful feeling to finally step into who I am.” Teaunna wants Black and Indigenous representation to increase beyond being a tokenist afterthought. Recognizing her own hearing privilege, Teaunna is working to make space and opportunities for Deaf individuals and other people with different abilities. She tells young Black talent to “really and truly believe in yourself… it allowed me to be in spaces where I belonged each and every time.”

Mwangi Gatheca, art director at Rethink

Mwangi wants to make advertising enjoyable. “I think that people don’t hate ads; they hate bad ads,” he says. While job-hunting, Mwangi noticed there weren’t many Black faces in creative departments, and he doesn’t have a BIPOC mentor (though he’d like one). It’s why he believes we need to help BIPOC kids learn about advertising. “…I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an art director,” he says. “This is an industry that has good jobs… you can still live out your creative aspirations (client approval pending).” His advice to peers: reach out, slide into the Linkedin DMs… there are many talented people out there, but only one YOU.

Moreen Valentine, media buyer, Dentsu

For Moreen, 2020 was tough. “Graphic images of the murder of, and violence against, people who looked like me were on repeat,” she points out. But she hopes 2021 is a year for change. “My voice is finally getting heard… we’re on the precipice of a monumental shift.” Like many who experience microaggressions, Moreen copes by code-switching; she uses a “zoom wig”, a “professional voice,” and purposely blurs her background. “All are self-preservation techniques. All are exhausting,” she says. Moreen is working with Dentsu colleagues on issues like BIPOC pay equity and career advancement, and hiring biases against new Canadians. Her advice for young Black talent? “Dream big. Do not let others limit your potential.”

Dameon Neath, designer at Juliet

Dameon admires OCAD dean Dr. Dori Tunstall’s notion of respectful design and how she uses that ethos to reframe our Euro-centric biases. Dameon treats instances of bias and racism as opportunities to educate. It may sometimes fall on deaf ears, but he still finds it more effective than meeting fire with fire. He quotes Audre Lorde: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” Dameon advocates for more programs, more sponsorship and more resources, so that “…when we (BIPOC) enter spaces, we can actually thrive in them. Square pegs can’t fit in an environment full of round holes, right?” He offers this advice to young Black talent: “Sometimes it’s just knowing someone that knows someone that provides access you thought you couldn’t get.”

Juanita Kwarteng, diversity and inclusion program manager at Publicis Groupe Canada

Juanita got into the ad business four years ago because she wanted to connect people to meaningful and valuable information, and she marvels at how influential the industry is. As an HR professional, Juanita says that “asking questions and setting boundaries is a powerful way to deal with racism. Ask questions like: What did you mean when you said…? Could you clarify what you mean by that? Is the person’s race relevant to this story? Do you actually believe that? If so how come? Do you have evidence to support that belief?” She wants the industry to become inclusive at all levels. More leaders of diverse backgrounds. More diverse vendors. More inclusiveness in how we decide to reach target markets. Juanita says her 2021 focus on education & outreach at Publicis will make our industry “more effectively able to represent the people it serves.” It wasn’t easy for her to break in. “It required persistence and a belief that something would happen for me. Belief in ourselves is so important.”

David Brown