It is Black History Month, and every day this month, The Message will be sharing Gavin Barrett’s short profiles of Black professionals from across the industry—marketing, advertising, PR, media and production. Barrett writes the profiles as a way to “fight invisibility,” an exercise in representation for an industry where representation must get better.
Day 3, and it’s time to say “Hello Ekene Oduh, we see you.” Ekene is an art director at Rethink, and has been in the business for just one year.
What attracted him to this industry? “I live across the street from Publicis. Those big red letters in my window every day may or may not have left an impression.” In the same breath, he also credits the old State Farm hot tub spot. “Literally changed my life.”
Ekene didn’t find it hard getting started in the industry, but stresses that he worked his ass off to get to where he is. He’s grateful he found a job that appreciates him as creative and as an individual so early in his career, because he knows it’s not the case for many others. “Any BIPOC mentors?” I asked Ekene, who said “Shoutout to Loretta Lau. Excited to be learning from/working with you!”
Ekene is still pumped that his first project from his first internship was featured by AdAge—as an Editor’s Pick, no less. “To work on something really cool before I even officially had a job was kind of surreal. Plus, I got hired at Rethink right after, which is still pretty wild to me. I used to do assignments about this place, and now I work there.”
Ekene’s approach to racism is to speak up. He believes in the mantra “Be the change you wish to see.” Though there’s an incredible amount of talent out there, Ekene believes we’re always looking for it in the same places, and need to do something different. To make the industry more inclusive, he’d like more outreach and opportunities before college.
He wants us to talk to high school kids, teach them about the industry, and empower them to take that first step towards an advertising career. And then, when we bring them on as interns, to pay them.
Ekene’s career has just begun, but he already knows that just being himself and taking up space will help change the industry for the better.
“There aren’t enough people that look like me who are doing what I’m doing, so if I can inspire someone to do the same thing, then I’ve done my job.” To young Black talent, he says: “Impostor syndrome is a lie. Wherever you are, whatever you have—you deserve it all and more. And, with his trademark humour, he adds “Also, stay hydrated.”
Ekene’s passion project is the volunteer design he does for The Kitsch Generation (@thekitschgeneration), a trans-led, Toronto film production company founded by Onyeka Oduh and Goldbloom Micomonaco. It strives to create space and opportunities for marginalized artists in an industry that rarely acknowledges their existence. “We seek to make work by and about us that is not only smart, but beautiful, fun, and resonant to audiences beyond our community.”
Ekene has chosen to share a project he worked on to get Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlisted books into Little Free Libraries across Canada. For Ekene, it was special because “people really appreciated what we did and I finally got to know what it felt like to make something that made people feel good.”