Meeting more Black Talent for Black History Month: Graham Nhlamba and Alice Namu

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.

Say hello to Graham Nhlamba. Graham was born and raised in Zimbabwe, and from an early age he was encouraged to do work that feeds his soul. He eventually moved to Canada to study, and today is a designer at Anomaly Toronto, an entrepreneur, an OCADU alumni and, pre-pandemic, an avid dancer.

After applying for hundreds of jobs and getting no responses via LinkedIn, he reached out to Anomaly’s talent director via Facebook Messenger. “I thought an ‘unprofessional’, more personal approach might work better, slid into the DMs and got a response four months later,” he says. Graham admits it all sounds rather dramatic, but it only took one person willing to hear him out for his career to kick off. “I didn’t have an advertising-worthy portfolio, but I understood how to do the work,” he recounts. “They gave me a chance.”

Graham likes to merge social impact with design, thinking beyond visual outcomes to practice what his dean and mentor at OCADU, Dr. Dori Tunstall, calls Respectful Design.

Highlights of his three-year career include contributing considerably to Anomaly’s Equal Advantage initiative and, recently, working on the launch of the #TapeOutHate anti-racism campaign for Budweiser and the Hockey Diversity Alliance. Both projects allowed Graham to authentically express the lived experiences of BIPOC folk, and to co-design community-centric solutions, like he did as a student, when he co-designed with collectives like Spoke’N’Heard and BSUs around Toronto. Graham wants similar opportunities for other emerging creatives in their early years.

The industry is often blind to the raw emotional labour that creatives of colour put in while working on white-owned businesses that want to “connect” with BIPOC communities, he says. And he believes we need to compensate those creatives for their labour, both financially and creatively.

He hopes initiatives like Equal Advantage “will draw more BIPOC creatives excited to do work that’s for us, by us. And hopefully, that’ll encourage more of us to stick around so we can have a bigger BIPOC community within our workspaces.”

That’s the knock-on benefit of Equal Advantage for him—attracting and retaining more creatives of colour who get to work “on businesses owned and led by people who look like them.”

Canadian communicators, say hello to Alice Namu. Alice is the founder of LightHouse Communications, a communications and marketing agency focused on working with social enterprises and the non-profit and charitable sector.

Alice has always loved reading and writing, and her family and friends know she’s always had a wild imagination, so the industry was a natural fit. That didn’t make it easy, though. “It was incredibly difficult to break in… despite having a Canadian education,” she says. “And when I was finally in, I experienced a lot of career advancement barriers.” Alice never let that stop her. Every morning she says to herself, “Today is a glorious day, and I’ll live it with boundless enthusiasm and limitless integrity—true to my visions and with a heart full of love.”

In the 10 years that Alice has been in the industry, she hasn’t had a BIPOC mentor. But coming from a family of female entrepreneurs, she received ample support on her journey.

As an entrepreneur in the social impact ecosystem, Alice loves that she gets to work with clients that are addressing social or environmental challenges. “Knowing that my work has societal impact truly brings me joy,” she says.

Entrepreneurship has allowed Alice to be selective about which organizations and people she works with. She is conscious about creating a safe workplace culture, but when dealing with bias, microaggressions or plain racism, Alice says simply, “I do not shy away from difficult conversations.”

As a visible minority in a primarily white industry, Alice is passionate about advancing diversity and inclusion within the communications and marketing industry. She would love to see more Black women in leadership positions, and is actively involved in industry associations—most recently volunteering as a board member for the Toronto Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC/Toronto).

To young Black talent who want to get into the industry, Alice says: “Your voice and your presence matter—that is the only way we will be able to advance inclusion within the industry.”

Alice’s passion project at the moment is “veganizing” recipes commonly made with products such as dairy, and she is working on a blog to share some of her most successful creations with the world. “Watch this space!” she says.

Alice is proudest of her volunteer work as IABC’s vice-president of programs and the board representative of IABC/Toronto’s then-new Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility Committee (IDEA). A highlight she shares is the fireside chat she co-hosted with Dr. Wes Hall (CBC’s Dragon Den), founder and executive chairman of Kingsdale Advisors, founder and chairman of the BlackNorth Initiative.

My thanks to Linda Andross, who nominated Alice.

Gavin Barrett