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Written by Haywood R. Watkins III for the 4A's MAIP


On August 30th , I received an e-mail from Dianne Parks, Bill Sharp’s daughter. Enclosed was a heartfelt congratulations and request to answer a few questions for the award’s site. The last query was, “What advice would you give your 17-year-old self?”

Hopeful black and well-intentioned white people held hands and sung Kumbaya. It was November 4th, 2008 and Barack Obama had just collected enough electoral college votes to safely be announced as the next president of the United States of America. Dr. King's dream had become a reality. America was now a post-racial society.

Unfortunately, Obama's jump shooting, Motown singing, swagger walking blackness did not end racism. Instead, it served, at the least, as a distress call to awaken the dormant hate that rested in the hearts of many Americans. This divide is once again rearing its head to rip the country in two. I wondered, “Will our industry follow?”

During the short span of my advertising career, I’ve witnessed ads that uplift as well as ads that disregard. And the latter is always met with disdain that screams across the web, “This wouldn’t have happened if there was a person of color in the room.” It’s a nice thought, but simply not true.

That thinking implies a world where marginalized communities need only to get a foot in the door to dismantle tone-deaf media. My retort is this, “What change can you create in the conference room if you are silenced in the lobby?”

The silencing does not arrive as a formal request. It comes in the announcement of a peer’s promotion or the awarding of work that doesn’t take the reality of others into account. Those on the fringe quickly adapt to survive and in the process, they edit away their differences with the hopes of being accepted.

I now fight the urge to edit, the want to be accepted, and the desire to belong where I know I’m not wanted because the hardships of my hue has given me strength. So, I sat down and wrote twenty words of advice to my younger self.

“When weary, seek your reflection and know this: Black skin is bonded to a body strong enough to carry it.”


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