Akil Worrell: Stay focused and ignore the noise

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.

World, meet Akil Worrell. A designer/art director with his own design practice, Akil loves how this industry offers him the opportunity to solve problems through strategy, creativity and design.

To him, any challenges he had breaking in were typical for a competitive field that attracts the best and brightest. He’s amazed by how many smart, creative people he has met during his eight years in the industry; it would’ve been difficult in any other industry. “It was and still is a wild ride,” he says. In particular, Akil says he has learned immensely from working daily with his non-profit and healthcare clients, and from their impact on the world.

While it hasn’t happened a lot, Akil has experienced microaggressions and discrimination throughout his life and career. And, as he says, even just witnessing or hearing these are bad enough. At this career stage though, Akil prefers to ignore it all. He focuses on achieving his goals. “I never respond emotionally,” he says, advising young BIPOC professionals to “Set clear goals, find healthy and productive ways to overcome these obstacles, and set out earnestly to be successful regardless of the devices being used against you.”

Akil wants the industry to reflect the audience we strive so hard to communicate with daily. “It’s difficult and sometimes damn near impossible to resonate with every culture while speaking one cultural language,” he points out. And he’d like to see more agencies that are owned and/or run by the BIPOC community. (Amen to that, says this BIPOC agency owner.)

While Akil doesn’t always have the time or energy, he strives to be available to help BIPOC peers when asked, whether it’s a portfolio review, career advice or expanding their networks, and he offers referrals to opportunities when they’re available.

His advice for young Black talent looking to break into the industry is to continuously develop their craft, day and night if they have to. It’s important to make sacrifices, and set attainable and time-sensitive goals for what they want to achieve. He knows it sounds daunting, but stresses that every big goal is a culmination of even smaller ones. He offers three simple stepping stones as a guide: “1. Invest in yourself, whether in your skills or your knowledge base. 2. Constantly grow your network. This will pay dividends in the long run. 3. Stay focused and ignore the noise.”

Design is a big part of Akil’s life, and he seizes any opportunity to offer his skills and knowledge when they’re needed. He is especially proud of his work on the Kuumba Project, a Massey Centre initiative that uses creative ways to engage and support the mental health and developmental needs of Black and African Canadian children. It’s work that is valuable to the African and Afro-Caribbean community in Toronto as a whole and, even more importantly, to impressionable youth.

Gavin Barrett