How CEE and Publicis Groupe are tackling workplace bias with hoodies

Who: CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals, with Publicis Groupe for strategy, creative and media.

What: A new brand platform, “Black Youth Can,” and an accompanying campaign, “Who I Really Am,” to raise awareness for CEE and the challenges of overcoming discrimination against young Black job seekers in the Canadian workforce.

When & Where: The campaign is live now, with digital video and out-of-home on more than $500,000 worth of donated inventory around Toronto from Publicis media partners like Branded Cities, Pattison, Outfront, Vertical Impression, Allvision, and Astral.

Why: Canada has a hiring bias problem, and the numbers prove it: in January 2021, the unemployment rate for young Black people (15 to 24) was 30.6%, nearly double the national average.

CEE has been providing both workforce skills training and development, along with holistic supports like therapists, for more than a decade, helping more than 1,000 Black youth.

“CEE is not an incredibly well-known organization; it’s an organization doing incredible things,” said Scott Pinkney, senior vice-president and executive creative director at Publicis Hawkeye. One of the objectives is to help raise awareness for CEE, generate support and new partners, and hopefully new students. But it’s also targeting employers and those making hiring decisions.

“This is a wake up call to employers to really make sure that you’re looking at your hiring practices,” he said. There has been an increase in training around workplace biases and hiring in the last couple of years, he said. “But the stats are still showing we have work to be done.”

“It’s time to tackle employment stereotypes head on and show the Black brilliance that I see every day in our students, alumni and community,” added Agapi Gessesse, executive director of CEE, in a release. “We have always known that Black Youth Can, and this Publicis Groupe Canada partnership has helped show the rest of Canada who we really are.”

How: The platform, “Black Youth Can,” serves as a declaration that Black youth can achieve anything, and CEE is there to support them. The campaign, “Who I Really Am,” is the manifestation of that claim.

It shares the success stories of nine CEE alumni, each featured wearing custom designed hoodies that describe their individual accomplishments. (The hoodies were produced by apparel brand Grandslammer$, founded by Jason Blackwood, one of the CEE alumni featured in the campaign.)

With hoodies often used as a racist stereotype against Black youth, Publicis wanted to flip the script about discriminating against people for what they wear or what they look like.

“A bunch of ideas came in front of me, and when I saw this one, as a Black man, it just immediately hit home,” said Pinkney. “I remember how fast it was, I saw the hoodie, and I saw this idea of taking it back… how do we take something back that’s seen as negative—which is what bias is—and turn it on its head?”

The campaign is anchored by a 90-second video featuring director and producer, Mike Regis who pulls the hood of his black sweatshirt up over his head before walking through the streets of Toronto.

“Five seconds… that’s all it takes for your first impression of me,” he says. “Know how long it takes to shake it off? A lifetime. But I’m not waiting. I’ve got dreams to build,” he continues, delivering a defiant monologue of what he will do in spite of the bias or injustices he will face. “I’m here to show you, who I really am” he says, as his long list of achievements appear on his black hoodie—a 2018 business management grad from TMU, nine years as an director and artist, seven years as a CPR certified Red Cross youth—swiping away racist stereotypes about young Black people wearing hoodies.

The ad closes with the other alumni—a future teacher, an accounting pro, an entrepreneur—all in their own black hoodies and staring defiantly at the camera.

“The idea of hoodies as kind of a walking billboard of what their accomplishments are—yeah, this is who I really am, not what you may think I am—for me personally, having gone through instances where I would walk in early in my career into an interview and got that ‘I didn’t even know you’re a person of colour’… I saw it and it emotionally connected to me and the challenge,” said Pinkney.

Aside from their appearance at the end of the video, the other alumni are featured on the CEE site, and in the display ads around the city in high-profile placements including Dundas Square, Union Station and the Eaton Centre.

And we quote: “Being part of “Who I Really Am” and seeing my story shared on such a big stage across the city has given me a whole new level of pride. I want Toronto to see what we have to offer.” —Mike Regis, director and producer, graduate of CEE’s Production Accounting program


David Brown