The is reposted from the original source Medium by: Joel Leon.
“I am not supposed to be here,” is what my younger self would possibly say to the bearded Black boy with white hair speckled about, who is currently eating pizza slices cut into neat squares while a cameraman takes photos. The me that I am presently has waited in line to have headshots taken, along with other upstarts from various agencies based out of New York City. I was one of the employees selected from the agency I currently work at, Deep Focus, to attend a panel being held at the Twitter headquarters, because apparently the higher-ups had identified me as “a rising star who embodies your agency’s values and their spirit of creativity and innovation.” Cool, I’ll take that. But, younger me is always in the shadows, lurking behind, whispering gently, “You are not supposed to be here.”
I was an emcee, first. ‘Rapping” and “breathing” have potentially lived as synonyms for one another for my entire being — I was freestyle rapping in my mother’s bedroom in our section of the Bronx since the tender age of 5. I created imaginary films, album covers, rap albums, and storylines, all within the confines of that bedroom. We didn’t have a lot, and a lot of what was happening outside of the doors of 2435 Creston Ave. forced me to seek escapism in art. I’ve taken the ethos of Hip-Hop, its cultural defiance, its disruptive and yet inclusive attitude and nature — it’s blues and jazz and soul and reggae and Afro-Cuban influences in its sound and approach to lyricism, and have let it bleed into everything I do, including this new chapter of my life as a publisher slash copywriter slash strategist slash culture up-lifter at Deep Focus.
You are not “explicitly” told you are not welcome; like many things in the world, it is seen (or rather, felt) much in the same way wind and air and chill exists; it is an inherently obvious thing that happens. Diversity programs are attempting to chisel away at the still startling data: African Americans make up only 5.8% of the ad industry. I knew I was the target of many an ad: McDonald’s burgers, Burger King chicken fries, Heineken sweaty bottles, hair products, car commercials, malt liquor billboards — those ads with persons of color, smiling gleefully, a boom bap in the background, some seamlessly integrated Kwanzaa aesthetics and colors, graffiti added for full effect, dancing as a nice touch, us hocking the latest trendy thing to be held and fawned over. But, I never thought I could potentially be in a room with others, deciding how the content that is created, gets created, and also be somewhat responsible for how that content gets directed towards that same demographic: millennial “me”. Yes, college courses are offered, classes are taught, programs established, but the ones creating, the ones in the classrooms, the instructors, none seemed to resemble me — hood kid, semi-poor kid, creative kid, artsy kid, straddling both bullet and book like balance beam ballerina. The path was not clearly identifiable. But, Hip-Hop also showed me the success of cross-pollination; Run-DMC and Aerosmith could exist on the same planes; Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine could share stages; Jay Z and Linkin Park could find ways to meld their ideas into one. Hip-hop had followed the trajectories of the Izzy Pop’s and Ramone’s of the world — going against the grain since Kool Herc picked up a turntable. Why would I be any different?
Diversity programs are attempting to chisel away at the still startling data: African Americans make up only 5.8% of the ad industry.
Working in the mainstream arena affords me the opportunity, the responsibility, to use my voice for awareness; for ensuring that the things that slip through the cracks, that the Pepsi/Jenner fiascos of our world, get burned on the cutting room floor before Ad Week gets ahold of it; before big data and Black Twitter has a field day with the results. There is a pride I take in that, a feeling of disrupting societal norms, with every email response that has the word “dope” in it; with every interaction that may contain a hug or hi-five; with explaining racial dynamics and how I see race as a single, Black father. it is the culture of Hip-hop I bring into conference rooms, into kitchens and creative and strategy briefs and presentations, always.
I would have never thought that the young kid who wrote rhymes and acted out scenes from fictional Hip-Hop films in the privacy of his mother’s bedroom, who simultaneously ducked during drive-by shootings, and walked the other route to avoid dealers and gangs; the same kid who almost got his Timbs stolen in front of his building, who had to tuck his chain when he came on the block, would be the same Black boy at Twitter HQ in NYC with Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer, holding court and conversation about media projects and the work we do as an agency in the digital space. If that isn’t Hip-Hop, if that isn’t disrupting culture and expectations, and mastering the art of such, I don’t know what is.