Andrew Bass Jr.

We’re ending off the month talking to one of the unsung trailblazers for diversity in the design community — Andrew Bass Jr. Longtime fans of Revision Path will recognize Andrew as one of our early profiles back in 2013, and it was great to finally have him on the podcast to talk about his story and his work.

In the first part of this two-part interview, Andrew talks about his design consultancy Straight Design, and shared his story of growing up in Brooklyn and falling in love with graphic design. He also spoke about attending Pratt Institute, the battle scars he received working in print media and gave me a look at his career as a designer throughout the 90s.

Make sure you tune in next week for Part 2!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I’m Andrew Bass and I am essentially design strategist, educator, art director, graphic designer. Day job I work as a art and production manager at an association called RIMS, handling their member publication. And I, on the side, I also have my freelance consultancy, Straight Design LLC, where I take on various different clients, focusing a little bit more on the small business side and not for profit as well as I’m an adjunct lecturer at City Tech or the full name New York City College of Technology where I teach Design Thinking, Design Studio.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going for you so far? We’re kind of near the end of the year. When you look back, how would you say the year has been?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It’s actually been, in perspective has been pretty good. I’m employed so that’s good.

Maurice Cherry:
Hey.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I’m getting transitioning more from my basic print background into more digital design, which is actually good, where I also trying to kind of squeak my way into doing a little bit more motion graphics. But it’s actually been going pretty well as I’m been focused more on my full-time job in teaching and a little pulled back away from Straight Design due to family thing, personal issues. So I went through a divorce, had to sell the house and all this during COVID.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. But 2022, has been compared to 2021 and definitely 2020, it’s been great. In the grand scheme of things, I really can’t complain about stuff, but it’s been going pretty well and I’m just trying to gear myself up to get, for 2023 to get a little bit back into focusing a little bit more on Straight Design and what that next evolution’s going to be for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I feel like the last few years for a lot of people have been this sort of, I don’t know, period of trying to just gets get acclimated to the way of the world now and especially now that it seems like capitalism is trying to push us out of COVID in a way that everyone’s really trying to think, oh well for next year I need to try to get back out there more. I need to try to do more, try to resume what life was like prior to all of this, you know?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I mean I will say for myself, and I’m still wrestling with quote, and I hate all these trend words that they keep coming out with, but quote “the new normal” because I now officially work from home and will be working from home for the next several years for my full-time job, saddle that with Straight Design, which is also still from home. The only time I actually go out for design is when I teach. Learning how to marry all that in one residence, basically my home without losing my mind and still maintaining that creative inspiration, is extremely hard and I’m still trying to formulate plans as to how to tackle it because I’m on what plan A.2 Now or something like that. Because I’ve gone through the 26 alphabet and gone through 1 through 10. So I’m on my third iteration of how to make this all go down seamlessly.

I think COVID just also put a pause on so many things that I think it is really hard to get, jumpstart ourselves back into, okay, this is how we did business, this is how we talk to each other, this is how we do stuff. And from the design aspect, I definitely have seen it become stagnated where I really feel that face to face has actually hurt a little bit of, at least my design process. In talking with both coworkers and clients that without that sort of personal face to face stuff, reading each other’s body language, playing off the vibes and stuff like that, that it has kind of stiffened a little bit of the creativity. I understand why everybody’s trying to say, “Okay, how do I get back into this normal life before COVID?”

Some of it I think is self-induced because for whole host of thing reasons 2020 was, I say from 2020, 2021 was a real big pot of let’s stir everybody, let’s scramble everybody’s brain with so much crazy misinformation about so many things. From the pandemic to politics to just how life is going to be to the state of the world and all that, that I think it really kind of, if I could say mind fucked us a bit that we still haven’t really kind of gotten out of it. But the thing is we need to, and the thing is, even during COVID, life doesn’t stop, you just have to adapt and figure a new way to do things.

And it’s slowly coming, it’s slowly coming. And I think as more and more folks get out that haze things will kind of lock back into place and pretty much kind of sync up as to how things were beforehand with just new processes, that’s all. It’s just going to be new processes. So it sort of forced the change for a lot of things. And we all know humans don’t like change very much. So it’s a shock to everyone’s system and I think it’s starting now to seep in and okay, this is what we’re going to do now.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. No, I mean you’re absolutely right. It’s been something I think a lot of us have just had to get comfortable with the constant pivots, whether it’s lockdowns or work from home or hybrid. And that’s we’re just talking about on a work kind of level. I mean personal level, there’s people that have lost loved ones, there’s people that have gotten COVID multiple times, they have long COVID, like there’s a lot that has really come out. And it’s continuing to happen, I would say even with the vaccines and such, there’s still just a lot that’s going on right now.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It’s something we just got to have to learn to live with and navigate that as anything else.

Maurice Cherry:
And we have to do it unfortunately on the individual level because I don’t think that structures have really been set up for us to do it on a societal level yet.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No, that it’s been misstep from day one and once it’s been misstepped, it’s very hard to start building that foundation and so that momentum is lost. So it is very much individually, which will be the success rate on that is going to be a wide range of stuff. Because some folks will do better, others will do worse. And the only thing is we just got to try and support one another when we can. I mean that’s lofty goals. Let’s hope that we all can do that and I think that’ll help things a little bit better. But yeah, it’s very much a matter of now it also kind of shows how fleeting life is and how, I mean a nanosecond, how things can shift and you have to either be ready to jump in and adapt or you just stay in that place and just cease to exist.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Let’s lighten the conversation up because people probably tuned in didn’t expect us to be going all deep about COVID and stuff. Let’s lighten it up and talk about your design consultancy, Straight Design, which you’ve ran now for 15 years. Tell me about that. How did it start?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It wasn’t even planned, it just kind of happened because I will freely admit it started because of my arrogance. I was working in a time and a company and I was going to have the opportunity to start teaching as an adjunct and I just kind of took for granted that because we had such a relaxed work schedule there that oh I could teach classes during the day and come in four days a week and not just one day. This was before anyone ever did any sort of remote stuff. And I didn’t bother to tell my editor-in-chief that I had done this. And so basically I was tasked with, “Look, if you drop the teaching gig now or teach at night or you just got to leave the job,” it’s essentially you’re making, you accepted two jobs and this is your first job.

And I kind of refused. At that point, subconsciously I was kind of done with where I was working at. I had been there for a few years and there was a lot of changes. The company was going through a merger, I should say an acquisition. And things were changing in my department. My staff, they had had me actually cut my staff and so I was the only one working on the magazine at the time and through budget cuts. And I kind of just used that as an excuse subconsciously to of exit out. And so when I did that I realized, oh what am I going to do for money? So I was like, “Okay, we’re going to have to kind of freelance.” And I took some time to just kind of coast a little bit, get my head together and I was approached by a client to submit a proposal for developing a magazine prototype as well as what it would be to produce this magazine on a monthly basis.

And it was a magazine based in the Netherlands based on financial technology, which I had was completely unfamiliar with that subject. But I submitted my proposal and I was awarded the gig and that gave me the impetus to, okay, let me start Straight Design. Now at the time it was called AD Bass Designs until I changed the name later on. And that started the ball rolling for Straight Design and they were very good [inaudible 00:15:06] and it morphed from just doing the magazine and the production to doing event materials to promotional collateral and it spurred adding to my clientele roster.

And so I was running that in a physical studio in Manhattan for a good number of years, at least like five years in there. And then the recession of 2008 hit, as well as everybody else, I started losing some clients because they were cutting back on money, but I was still doing pretty well with that. But then once my big client sort of went away because the owner of that company didn’t realize what the financial investment was in starting up a magazine because a magazine doesn’t really break even for at least five to seven years. And the owner was like, “Whoa, this is taking too long.” And so they kind of pulled back on it, still kept all the event stuff and the event materials and stuff but just wasn’t doing the magazine.

I started losing clientele a bit because of the economic situation and at the time I was married and both my wife then and me were self-employed and with, we just had our daughter and I was like, “Okay, somebody’s going to have to go back inside because health insurance was as much as my mortgage.” And I was like this is killing my savings quick. And that’s when I had just made the transition to go back in-house. But I still kept Straight Design as my freelance consultancy so that I would basically do the projects that I still were very interested in on the side, but I didn’t have to worry about hunting down and bringing in clientele while maintaining my whole household. And I’ve kept that way from since 2012, I think. Yeah. From 2012 to now. Where I’m now thinking about eventually I might resurrect Straight Design in a more full-time capacity in the next several years. But that’s how I started it. It was really just a fluke.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s so interesting. Hearing you talk about how you started that reminds me of how I started my studio. It’s so funny that you said it was out of arrogance. Because I feel like I started in the same way. I was a senior designer working AT&T. I mean I was completely self-taught. I just felt like, oh I got this, I got this. And I mean I was working there in AT&T, for at least back then, I can’t speak to how it is now. This was 2008 when I quit. But it was very much a production house. It was all on the assembly line basically. You got packet with all your stuff that you needed to design and you did it in Photoshop and you sliced it up in Dreamweaver and coded. There was no love or soul into it because you had to crank it out and eight hours or less essentially.

And so you’re just doing this on a constant loop. And I was like I could do this better myself. And I just quit and started my own studio. I really felt like, yeah, I could do this, I got this. But yeah, it’s interesting because even when I started, I had a different name for my business. I started it out, it was called 318 Media because I wanted to, one, it was after my birthday and then two, I just wanted to have a cool kind of funky name. I ended up changing it later because there were other three blank blank media companies in Atlanta. There was a three, I know there was a 352 Media, there was a 360 Media and people were getting us confused and so we had to have a standoff, okay, somebody’s got to change.

And I was like, “I’ll change mine,” because I had a weird spelling for it too because I don’t know, I thought it was cool to have the number three, the word 18, but then I had to keep explaining it to people and then forms wouldn’t take a business thing that started with a number. It was a whole bunch of things.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh wow.

Maurice Cherry:
And then I just changed it to Lunch in 2014, 2015 and completely rebranded the company. So it made more sense after I did all of that. And I even found business increased once that happened because one, people weren’t getting us confused with other companies. And then I had all these kind of gimmicks around lunch. My business card was one of those plastic key tag things where like CVS or whatever.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was like that was what the business card was. And every time I met with a client I’d mark off a little circle on the back.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh that’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’d be like, “Oh, if you get a certain number, you get a free whatever.” I could play all these little gimmicks into it and it was fun.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
That’s cool.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve thought about going back to freelancing now, especially since I am not working and the job market is trash, I’m thinking about it. So I get what you mean about always having it in your back pocket in a way is something that’s just your own thing, you know?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, I mean it was great experience, still is a great experience. It was a great experience having the actual physical space, dealing with clients coming into the office, going to presentations and stuff like that. Contracting freelancers to work on projects and something like that. But it was also a good experience in understanding that New York City does not small business. They don’t like freelancers. Unless you are a huge company, the state is just going to rob you blind.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And it’s really hard. It was harder than I really imagined to run a business in New York City and New York state because New York City is its own entity and then you have to deal with New York state as well and then you got the feds so you get triple hit.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It was very, very interesting. And I would probably not open up a business in New York City again. I would go to a different state. I’m starting to understand some of the reasons why some companies open up in particular states. Just from the business point of view, it makes a lot of sense. But it was a good experience I have to say. And it actually did very well, even to my surprise because I didn’t expect to do so well starting off. I thought I was going to have to kind of struggle a bit, but things just rolled in really nicely and I was like oh. And I knew that wasn’t going to last. I just didn’t know it was going to hit sooner than it did. But it was a great experience and it just helped strengthen how I do my consultancy now when I freelance and stuff, that I got a little bit better practice with clientele because I really don’t like that side of doing a business. I really just want to create.

And I was always trying to find, I said if I was going to do Straight Design as a company company again where there’s just more than me, I need to find somebody who’s this, who’s good on the business side that doesn’t mind doing all the numbers and the paperwork and stuff like that. Because now that stuff really does consume a lot of time and it really showed being a creative takes a lot. We all know being a creative takes a lot of our energy. But when that’s split with doing this sort of the other side of our brain, the more logical side sometimes how that can disrupt things now and it’s hard to get back into that creative flow after you’ve been dealing with invoices and setting out proposals and responding to RFPs and tracking down those clients that are a little late in their paying and then taxes. That, yeah. We don’t like taxes but that, that’s woo those quarterlies.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
[inaudible 00:22:50] on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
You are preaching to the choir on that one. I know exactly what you mean.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. So it was a great experience and I try to pass that information to students now and always have incorporated a little bit of business sense in my teachings with students so that they’re better prepared for that. Because I never got that when I was in school. There was business not considered part of the curriculum. It was about technique and creating and stuff. Not like, “Okay now you got to make a living, how are you going to survive?” But it was a great experience. I mean it still is a great experience but what it is now is that I can pick and choose what I really want to work on.

And I really tend to working on not for profits or trying to help businesses get their start and really understanding how important the strategy of design is. And not so much get sidetracked by all the nice shiny bells and whistles, but to really understand how this design strategy is going to help them propel their company’s message to ensure they are successful in interacting with their consumer, their customer base and stuff. And I kind of like that. And that working full time and doing the consultancy on the side, that enables me to do that a little bit more without having to worry about the slow times and stuff like that. So it has worked out pretty well for right now. Although like I said before, I’m thinking of the next evolution that’s probably going to happen within the next year.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean you mentioned nonprofits and sort of smaller businesses that you really like to work with. What does your creative process look like when you’re starting on a project?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Generally when I’m first starting on a project, this is assuming I’ve been awarded a project, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Okay. Because then there’s another process on trying to get that project. Once I’ve gotten a project, I really try to just hone in and identify what is the problem that they’re facing, what is it that they really need to happen? And in that, once I’ve kind of locked that solid, that kind of helps me figure out my focus on what I need to sort of really understand about them, their audience, what they’re actually trying to put out there. Whether it’s some sort of service, whether it’s about the face of their company. And I really try to learn as much as I can about them to sort of really put myself in their shoes and trying to put myself in the shoes of who they’re trying to reach so that way I can talk in the same tone, the same voice. And that usually that’s a lot of my discovery time.

I always tell my clients that I need a good, I give myself about four weeks of discovery time to go through stuff to understand, to talk to people, to be able to really understand the gist and the spirit of what this is and who they claim their audience is to see if it actually matches up before I ever begin thinking about creative solutions. And then once I’ve done that, that’s when I just go back to them and kind of confer my findings, where I sort of send back to them, for lack of, a creative brief, just letting them know, “Okay, this is of where I think this is at.” And just to get them the co-sign, “Yeah, this is what we see for ourselves, this is what we see our audience, this is where we definitely agree with this is what’s happening, this is the sentiment.” And then that’s when I start getting into my creative process where start trying to now understand the competitors, see what they’ve done, see what this company’s done and what works well.

Because sometimes companies don’t realize they have some good stuff, it’s just maybe not executed well or thought out correctly. And so I try to see what is good. Nobody wants to reinvent the wheel unless it’s necessary. And see, like I said, see what works, what doesn’t work and then start beginning to put those pieces together and start developing my own of creative point of view as to how I think the project should go and what’s going to be best for their purposes moving forward. Which again, that’s another big chunk of my time that depending on the scope of the project, definitely is at least a month for, I like telling folks weeks versus months because it seems shorter in weeks than months. Math. I tell them it’s usually about four to six weeks I’m going to start doing creative development if it’s a kind of small base project, small to medium side.

And that allows me to actually kind of run through a lot of my ideas because in all transparency, as a creative I also build in cushion time for myself with that. Because I’m not starting on that project right off the bat. I’m a procrastinator and I probably should not be putting this out on air, but I’m a procrastinator and sometimes it takes a while for me to jumpstart to get in things because deadlines really drive my juices. I don’t know why that is, but at least about a week or so I kind of just kind of float through the project in the development phase. Kind of looking at things inspiring myself before I realize, oh man, okay, I got to get my stuff going in into gear.

And then once I’m in gear though, I’m going through it. I’m flying through it to build up my mock so that way I can present to the clientele. And I walk them through the whole process and I explain, I kind of educate them about the aspect of design and why I have done exactly what I’ve done, the choices I’ve made from all the elements. So that they have a better understanding that this is not just about making things look nice and that colors, type, images just seems like random choices when no, there’s a calculated reason for the choices on this and what the desired result is expected from it because of these choices.

And then it’s a matter of, I don’t usually have not gotten from clients an extensive back and forth on things. It’s been a pretty quick, “Yeah, we like this choice, we’ve got these few little changes and then that’s it.” And then the end of the process is where I now start finalizing everything up. And that usually is the quickest part of the process because all the stuff I build up is to high fidelity in terms of the conceptuals. And so that way all I’m doing is just tweaking some things unless it completely requires a rethought and which we never want to do there. And luckily I’ve only had one or two of those and that’s an earlier part of my career because that’s embarrassing. Go back to the drawing board to because you completely did not catch what was going on. And then from there it’s just providing the materials to the clienteles and following up with them.

Now that’s one of the things that I think sometimes as designers, creators we don’t do is that we don’t follow up to say, “Okay, hey, how did things go six months out? How did everything happen? Are you satisfied? What’s going on?” To try and maintain and build those networks and those relationships so that it becomes a longstanding client base. But also I think it’s just good practiceship or businessmanship to follow up with your clients, make certain what you provided to them is doing what they needed to be done and that they’re satisfied and that it’s helping them. So, that actually tells you how well you’ve done yourself. But that’s [inaudible 00:30:48] my process. I hope I didn’t drone on that.

Maurice Cherry:
No, I mean I think that end part definitely is good because then it also means that you can possibly get repeat clients.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Repeat work from the same client. I mean that’s always good. I know back when I was doing my studio, I would have clients I do work for and then I would follow up and if they needed things on a more regular basis, eventually that graduated to becoming a retainer. And then that’s guaranteed monthly income, which we all love that. That’s great.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And referrals. Current clients can refer you to people, so you get new clients.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely. Let’s kind of dive a little bit into your personal story. I think folks now can kind of hear the New York accent.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh my god.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about growing up there.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
You mean my Brooklyn accent? Yeah. Well I mean I’m born and raised in New York, specifically Brooklyn. Because people ask me, oh where I’m from, I say, “I’m from Brooklyn. I’m Brooklynese.” Because yes, people from Brooklyn, we have Brooklyn is a culture. Other folks realizing, or at least old Brooklyn now, because yes, I’m going to say Brooklyn is not quite the same as it used to be. So old school Brooklyn. Yeah, I grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, now during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Crack era and blackout from 1977. So Bed-Stuy was rough. It was not for the week of heart. And me growing up as the nerd, because I’ve always been a nerd, always been the tallest dude out of everybody, very quiet, reserved. So I was the art kid. And so naturally I was bullied growing up and for me to deal with that, I always used to just draw. Now I would just go into my notebooks and draw these fantasy worlds just to escape from all the crap that I was growing up with.

Because I also, my dad was an alcoholic. When I was younger it wasn’t as bad as it was when I got older, but when he did drink, it was not a pleasant environment. So coupled that with the knuckleheads in my neighborhood who were bugging me and my brother, I retreated to my drawing. Now I just went in there and I just started drawing worlds to just escape for a few hours and stuff. It was great therapy for me. Unfortunately, as I think back, a lot of the scenes that I would was drawing were conflicts. It was like war, space invasions, shooting. I was just blowing up shit. If you talk to a therapist, that means that’s a manifestation of what’s going on out there. And I’m like, but I had fun.

And with the drawing that actually got me interested in do people do this? And so I started looking deeper into cartoons cause I love cartoons and how they were drawn. I was like, oh people do this. When I found out as a kid, folks actually do. Because I don’t know what I was thinking as a kid, I just thought they magically appeared. I didn’t know you actually had to do that. And that fascinated me because I was like, “Ooh, maybe one day I can draw some cartoons.” And that shifted my invasion drawings into drawing characters and doing little mini cartoons. And to date myself, I used to do these little flip books where you draw them on the edge of the paper and you just flip them. And then-

Maurice Cherry:
I remember flip books. Yeah, yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
We all did that back then. It was just so cool. And people loved when I did it at my school and they’re like, “Ah, do one for me, do one for me.” And I started getting a little reputation for Andrew’s, “He’s the animator, he makes these cartoons that move,” and it was pretty cool. And I was like, oh, maybe one day I could do this for a living. But as I started growing up, I got into graffiti because the introverted kid started breaking out his shell a little bit. And I was fascinated with graffiti. Little did I know, that was my first introduction to design, specifically graphic design. Because what folks don’t seem to realize back then graffiti was just that was vandalism, got to get those kids. And I don’t advocate now at 55 to ever go paint up on people’s property. That is having been a property owner, I’m going to beat you up if you write on my property.

But it was beautiful work to see the letters, the formation of these characters and then the letters of the characters, and then actually the figurines you put into the pieces in the murals. Which all based off of the smurfs, Vaughn Bodē’s work, I forgot the character name with the mushroom head. Or at that time it was the, because that was the beginning of the hiphop culture. And I say hiphop purposely now because hip hop culture was the trifecta of MCing. Notice I say MCing and not rapping. MCing, breakdancing, and graffiti. Graffiti was the visual expression of all this, where breakdancing was the physical manifestation of the movement, and MCing was the verbalization of it. And there’s a distinct difference between MCing and rapping. Now, again, dating myself because we rappers today are not MCs.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no, no. I would venture to say rappers today are barely rappers.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Bingo. But that’s got me into graffiti. And I just fell in love with how you create your own letters and create these characters into these stylized formations. And then the color, when I had my black book with the markers, it was Pantone markers. Little did I know Pantone would actually be so much a part of my life. But those Pantone markers with the smell, I love those smell of those markers. It was pure alcohol now. Yeah, pure alcohol. And they soaked through everything, but they left beautiful pieces. And that was actually my very first foray into being an artist and drawing and in design. And from that point on, I knew I wanted to do something creatively for the rest of my life. Now I just didn’t know what now.

And I went through different phases as I went from high school where I went to Brooklyn Tech, which was, and still is a very specialized high school that focuses on math and science. But they had an industrial design program in there and a little bit of arts. And so I took that because I suck at math, I love science, but I’m not a scientist. And so I did industrial design, which was very much equated to let’s say package design, product design and architecture, which did interest me. And for a time I was like, maybe I’ll do be an architect. But I really liked more the spontaneous creativity in design oriented projects.

So when I left Brooklyn Tech, I applied, was thinking about college and I applied to Pratt, I applied to City Tech. At the time, City Tech back then was called New York City Technical College. That’s what it was called back then. And those are the only two schools I applied to because I didn’t know of any other schools. And also because my mother told me I was either going to go to Pratt or City Tech because they’re in Brooklyn. And so that way I’m close to home. So my mother was very much the SuperMax warden growing up. So I looked at both. I applied to both. I got into both.

I went through, I first focused on going to Pratt, but I couldn’t afford that bill. I was like, “Ooh, that’s too much money.” And I didn’t really have a true portfolio back then. I just had my black book and some work from high school. Because like I said, Brooklyn Tech was not based, was not an art school. So I didn’t know anything about building a portfolio, what’s needed or anything like that. So I just had little trinkets. So I went to City Tech or New York City Technical College at that time.

And that’s where I really started learning what it is to be in the creative industry. And I knew right then and there, yeah, this is the choice I want to do. I definitely want to be in the creative industry. Now I got to decide, is it advertising, is it this thing called graphic design? Is it this thing being an illustrator? Because a couple of my professors were pushing me to be an illustrator now. And they were like, “You just have this natural tone. You should be an illustrator.” I just didn’t like sitting in those classes for six hours drawing stuff. I was like, are you kidding me? That’s like, this is boring me. It did. It wasn’t as fun to me. And I did a year at City Tech and then I transferred, especially at the encouragement of one of my professors because I was all A’s, I got 4.0 for that first year.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
All my projects just didn’t feel like it was a challenge to me. Even though at the professor who I’m revering right now, her name is Dorothy Hayes, she’s passed on.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, I’ve heard of her. She’s been mentioned on the shows by a lot of people. Yeah.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. Dorothy Hayes at the time when I was a student of hers, I could not stand her. She was too hard. I was like, she was always on my. Always, always Bass. Because she always called me Bass. Never call me Andrew. “Bass, Bass, you could do better. You could do better. Where’s your work, I want to see your work.” But looking back, I mean that really forged who I am and I’m forever thankful to her, and a few other professors I met. By the way, which they were all Black. I was lucky. I had quite a few Black professors in my design education.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Which was unheard of. That’s why I was saying that was destined to be and stuff. And so I transferred to Pratt and that’s where shit got real ,when I went to Pratt.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about it. How was it?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
It was challenging. I wanted the challenge. I got challenged. It was like I almost dropped out at my, what was it, sophomore year? Well actually not, it was my transfer year. Yeah. Because when I transferred over, some of my credits transferred over, some did. Because Pratt had a foundation year that they required everybody to take. So I had a mix of classes that were from the foundation class and then classes that were able to be transferred over. It was a completely different environment. And we’re talking about 1986. Pratt was intense. The workload was nothing I had experienced at any school. It was weekly. It was a lot to manage. I mean many projects very much about understanding and defending the basis of your projects, which I hadn’t understand before that. I thought it was just about, oh, how do you make this stuff pretty. And then that’s where I first learned, no, it’s about why are you doing this and for who is it for? Basically what is your thinking behind this?

And that tripped me up because I was like, “Oh that seemed like a lot.” As well as at that same time, there was a lot of things going into my, not childhood, but at my home with my focuses at that point now. My dad definitely was heavy into his alcoholism. And so going to Pratt was a good and a bad experience. Good in the fact is that the work was intense. It forced me to double down and really get involved in understanding the nature of the work that I’m building. Because the very coming from four A’s to where I just thought I automatically get that coming in the Pratt. And then the end of that first transfer year, I realized, now granted also too, I was doing a little more partying that transfer year. Because I was like, “Ah, I got this. This is easy.” That’s when my GPA went from 4.0, dropped down to 2.0.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a dip.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh it’s a major dip. And couple of my teachers came to me, professors came to me and said, “Look, hey. You can do the work. What is going on? You’re not applying yourself.” And that’s when I woke up and said, “Okay Andrew, you forget this partying, you can party after you graduate. Let’s get on the ball.” And I worked my house off to try and get my grades back up. And it was never back to 4.0. I graduated what? 3.0. I worked it back up. But that one year did that much damage to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. And so the other good things with that was the, I’d have to say, with the intensity of the work, it was also the way the professors tried to instill some of the actual business dynamics into how you build a creative, but also how to be a creative. It wasn’t extensive, it was snippets. It was, what was her, it was my copywriting professor, Lorraine McNeil, who also happened to be Black. She was a Black woman. She would occasionally mention about the business aspect and what would be expected out of there. It wasn’t a full fledged business kind of introduction, that didn’t exist when I was going to school. But she did try to put some nuggets out there because I found out about business and stuff on my own.

Now that was the other good thing about Pratt is that they had an extensive library. And that’s where I really got a lot of my supplemental education was in that library. I was in the library too much. They had so many books I couldn’t keep my hands off those books. The bad aspects of Pratt was that I felt very isolated as a Black student. Pratt was predominantly white and there were students who basically came from more affluent families. There was a contingent of students of color on there. A lot of them stayed on the dorms because they were not basically from New York, they were from other states.

So I didn’t have that kind of connection because the folks who were in the dorms, they had their own clique. They focused more, a little too much more on partying than education. I always called the edutainment and I’m like, “I already saw the effect of partying on my grades. I was like, nah man, I got to get serious because we want to get a job. We got this is going to be our career.” The isolation was very detrimental to me in that aspect because I didn’t have a vacuum. I had, I didn’t really have folks I can confer with about how their education was going, how classes were, how projects were, to bounce off ideas with somebody else is to, what do you think about this? And something like that.

The other thing is too, I thought the teachers, the white teachers, I thought they were very sort of offhand with the students of color. They seemed very apt to help the white students but not so eager to help the Black and Latino students. It was kind of like, “You can figure this out on your own. I’ll just give you this little nugget and let’s see what’s going on.” But then you see them confer very regularly with the white students after class, off premises. They would extend numbers to them. I’m like, “Huh, how come we don’t get that?” The only professors actually did do that were the professors who happened to be of color. I had three of them. I had Richard Perry who was an English teacher, Dwight Johnson, who was one of my design teachers who also actually gave me my first freelance gig. Lorraine McNeil, who was my copywriter teacher.

Those were the three professors that I had through my years at Pratt that did offer me help, is particularly Dwight Johnson. Now he’s the one that really, in the beginning years, I modeled myself after him. Now he gave me first freelance job. I just personally and professionally, I styled myself after him because I just thought he was on point. I was like, “I want to be like him.” So Pratt overall, if I had to choose today, I would not necessarily go to Pratt. There’s so many other schools out here that are actually pretty good and cheaper that I probably would’ve went to. But that’s how Pratt was. There’s really not much to say about City Tech because at that time City Tech had a reputation of being a super high school. It was just a continuation. And then, I mean having worked at City Tech now and working at City Tech now I will say they definitely have changed that, which is for the better.

But back then it was really classified as just an extension of high school and folks acted the same way. So it was good to get that sort of foundation in City Tech. And actually meeting a few professors there, Dorothy Hayes, Joel Mason, Robert Holden, they were actually good teachers that kind of helped me build a real portfolio, so that when I, they applied to Pratt again to transfer over, my portfolio was much more readily accepted now that I had a portfolio. But yeah, that’s how my experiences, I don’t look too fondly on my college years. It was kind of rough on instances that I wish I had more camaraderie among some of my fellow classmates and a little bit more, actually not a little bit, a lot more help from my professors. It just wasn’t really there. May have changed now, I don’t know how Pratt is at this moment now, other than I know it’s highly expensive. But yeah, that’s how my experience was there.

Maurice Cherry:
So you graduate from Pratt. Tell me what your early career is like, because I want to also just kind of put this in a timeframe here. I mean you’re studying design at a time when personal computers were not really part of design.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No. No.

Maurice Cherry:
So I’d love to kind of hear what was your early career like once you graduated?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
I have to say, I think my early part of my career probably was the most fun part of my career. Where I think I chalk it up to youth where, I mean there was no holds barred. I thought I could do anything. I was like I was ready for every stuff and it was pre-computer. So I was pretty good with my hands in doing that. Because in the beginning, in my beginning career, we did everything by hand. So we did boards, type was done through a, we’d send it to our type setting department or you would send it out to type setting companies and they would run off, what was that called? A linograph, I think it was called linograph. Basically it was just a sheet of paper that had the type set on there and you would cut that up, paste it on the board, with rubber cement. It was very hands on. That was where you would get your-

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, Letraset is that what you mean? Letraset?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
No, Letraset was for the, if you’re doing display type.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
But the actual body copy, the that text, if you tried putting that on Letraset, you would kill yourself. It would be tedious and oh so time consuming. So that was set by a machine that just ran off, sort of like photo paper you can kind of say it and you would just cut it down to size as you need.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, that’s linotype.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah. Yeah, linotype. That’s it. Not linograph, linotype. The Letraset really is for display type. If you want to do custom things and stuff like that. Especially like logos. If you were going to do logo stuff. Oh yeah, that’s what I was going to say back then, that’s where you would actually get your battle scars because by cutting all that stuff with the X-Acto blade or an actual razor blade, it was no way you were not going to cut your hand. And getting cut with X-Acto blade is better than getting cut by a razor blade. Because hoo, those razors are deep. But that was just par for the course. Your hands, your fingers would be all scarred up. You don’t see them so much now in my hands, but there’s one or two spots that you still see where I have some heavy cuts.

But that’s how we actually did stuff by putting them on board, gluing down the type. The images we would actually have to send out to a stat house and they would take basically what was a full scale image or a film. It’d be like they would send you a negative and you would send that negative to the printer. You would put down sort of a for all intents and purposes, like a Xerox copy of what it is, just to get them in position, placing everything down with tracing paper to cover everything up, do some inking when you needed to do some things. And that was a lot of pen and ink work, which I think is solely missed from today’s work. Folks are so reliant on digital that they don’t know how to create stuff by hand anymore. And there is a beautiful nuance between hand created stuff and digital stuff.

Digital can be too clean. Even the stuff that try to simulate manmade stuff, it still has a cleanness about it that doesn’t exist in handmade stuff. And all that would take us some serious time. So if you wasted time, if say, “Okay, I’m not going to work on this today.” You lost 24 hours that can really impact your deadline. Now, unlike today where everything is like, “Okay, well I’m not going to work on this right now, I’ll do it tomorrow.” You don’t lose that kind of time because digital is so quick, it’s so instantaneous. But working there, my very first thought was I had gotten an internship at a small ad agency out of the result of, at that time I was the president of the Black Student Union at Pratt and I was all about business.

So I was looking at the Black Student Union as a way to start linking us up with job opportunities to various different agencies and studios in New York City so that we can get a head start on the other students, ie our white students who easily have these connections and get into stuff. But folks were not looking for us. So I was determined to try and get us a jump start. And one of the agencies who participated in that program, I was awarded the internship, which was a whole story because essentially folks didn’t participate. There was only a few folks that actually came out and participated, which really disappointed me on that. And I got it because my portfolio was the best out of it and folks had issues with that. But I’m like, “If you don’t apply, you can’t complain.”

And so I worked there for the summer of 1989. So once I graduated they offered me a full-time job. So I worked there for the summer and I was doing, it was an ad agency, but I was doing a lot more design work and I was the defacto art director because I was the art department because the agency was, it was a Black owned agency, it was just the principal and two other people in there. Excuse me. And it was a good experience because I was able to do my first photo shoots, meet these photographers, do [inaudible 00:55:03], set up model stuff. I had to battle folks because folks were like, “You sure you’re the art director? You seem a little young.” And I was like, “Well yeah, I am young but I am it.”

The only thing that kind of saved my grace a bit where people gave people a little pause at time was that, yeah, I towered everybody. I was six, was I 6’6 then when I graduated? I was either between 6’4 or 6’6, because I don’t think I reached my peak until around 23, 24. And so I towered over everybody. So my height kind of gave me some more credence and credibility and stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
But I always had a baby face. I still sort of do have a baby face. I mean it’s getting a little older. And so folks questioned that. But once I started doing the work, they were like, “Okay, no, you seem to know what you’re doing.” Because I kind of learned it as I went because if I didn’t know something, I was determined to go find out how to do it. And that’s where, I mean, because that was pre-internet. So again, I hit up libraries now. I mean there was so much information out there that people just don’t realize if you just get up and look for it, there’s a world at your fingertips. And I would just find out information on the rare occasions that I’d actually just ask people in the industry, I’m like, “You don’t don’t know me, but can I just ask you a question?” And folks were surprisingly helpful. So I did that and I was pretty much given leeway to do stuff, which is not usually the case.

I don’t know why that actually occurred. I consider myself lucky in a lot of the places I was employed at, I was given a lot of leeway. I was given the autonomy to like, you are the leader, create your stuff. Now I don’t know if it was the aspect of how I carried myself, how I did my work, because I always felt I was nervous. I was a nervous wreck. I’m like, “Do I really know what I’m doing? I don’t know.” I was always doubting myself in my head, but I would not let that show, I would not let that be known to anybody. And so for those three months, everything was still done by hand. No, the only computers in there were for the administrative views. And I will freely admit I use that computer to play my video games. Because I’ve been on video games since Atari 2600. Even though Atari was crap, I had CalecoVision, but that’s a side note.

So we were still doing stuff by hand and I was doing some long hours. There was no, okay, it’s 5:00, everybody go home. No, I would stay until about 11:00 at night, 12:00 at night. And the owner would just give me the key to the place and say, “Just lock up when you need to.” Which I thought was, wow. Again, I seemed to endear confidence to people that they gave me this responsibility and I never broke that trust on that responsibility. So from there, after about three months, like I said, again, being a young creative, I was a little too cocky and I was like, “You know what? I’m tired of this. I can get me another job like that.” And so I quit. I was like, I wanted to do something else.

And that’s when I realized, no Andrew, that’s not how it works. It’s like I got a hard dose of reality. It was like that I need to get my ego in check. And I was out of work for a good number of months. Back then you found your jobs through the classified ads in the paper, which I know today everybody would be like, “What’s a newspaper? What’s a classified ad?” But it’s equivalent to a job listing online. And I found a listing for an associate art director at this publishing company. And I said, “Oh, okay, that’s a different genre. Let’s kind of see how that is.” Submitted my resume, they called me in for an interview and I got a surprise because when I came in for the interview, that’s when I learned that the magazine was for an adult. It was an adult magazine, it was an adult publishing.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
And I was like, okay, this is interesting. But then when they actually specified what market in the adult publishing, it was a gay lifestyle magazine, I was like, “Oh, this is 1989.” And that was in the height of the AIDS epidemic, the Black kid from Bed-Stuy, there was a lot of stigma to the gay community and stuff like that. My concern was like, “Well okay, this X-rated stuff, can I get a job after this if I take this?”

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
That was my main concern. And so did very well in the interview. It was interesting when they said this, I’ll share with everybody, in 1989, the starting salary at that position was $22,000. I thought that was a lot of money back then and it was a lot of money because it supported me very well. Went back home, had a conversation with my mom, like, “Hey I went to this job, it looked pretty good. What do you think?” And she was like, “Are you there to do what you earned your degree in?” I said, “Yes.” “What are they paying you?” I told her the salary. It’s like, “So what is the problem?” I said, “There’s no problem. It’s just if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be do not supposed to be doing, but if you’re doing what you’ve been, you’ve got your degree on and this is your career. What’s the issue? It’s your starting point. Now it doesn’t mean that’s your end point.” And with talking to my mom, I was like, “You know what, that makes sense.”

And so after that conversation, it again, coincidentally I got a call from the art director that I met. She offered me the job now and I was like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll take it, I’ll see you.” And I started working, I stayed there five years. And so I rose from associate art director to an art director for monthly magazines. And yes, they were all towards the gay market. I learned quite a lot. I learned that if you are a good designer, you can design for any market. It’s about understanding your market and understanding what you’re doing for, what are you doing in that project to address your market. And the benefit of doing that magazine was that it wasn’t a straight just pictorial kind of magazine. It had lifestyle. So they had editorial in there and it was, unless you know what the magazine was, it could have just been in any mainstream magazine.

At the time The Advocate and Out were two magazines in the gay market that just kind of came out and they were getting a lot of shine. They were the number ones and they were beautifully done magazines. They were beautifully designed. And I kind of used that as my inspiration to model, to sort do my lifestyle stuff as, which was very successful. And it helped me transition from there to my next gig, which was at Essence Communications. But in those five years, that’s when I started. We transitioned about a year. Yeah, I think it was about a year after I started transitioning into computers. The Mac.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
In 1991, I believe. Because that was the other premise I stayed with. Well I wanted to take the opportunity too is that they had said they were going to make that transition from doing stuff production wise with the mechanical boards to move into doing the work electronically. Now that they were going to use Mac. I’m sorry, that wasn’t in 1991. That was 1990.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, it was 1990 because I started in ’89 and then I think in the spring of 1990, that’s when they started introducing the Mac, gave us courses. We went out there and myself and my other coworker who was the other associate art director on the magazine I was working on, we just blew it out. We were at class and then we would come back to the office and take what we had in class to apply it and continue it. Learning and doing stuff and seeing how things work when we were back in the office. And our art director at the time was like, “That’s great because you’re going to help me learn this because I don’t get what’s going on.” And he was older than us and stuff like that. But it was fun. And it made things go so much faster. And now we are doing our own type setting.

We now scanning images so we now can place them into our documents. We actually have the live files where we actually start learning how to photo retouch, photo calibrate how to type, how to create special print techniques like masking, fit colors, all this stuff that. The bad side of that was it actually, with the advent of the Mac, it eliminated whole industries. We lost type houses. Those faded out because now people could do it themselves. We lost a lot of production folks who actually, if you didn’t actually do the boards yourself, you could hire people to do it. No, just create and then give the directions to them, to losing some of the business with the photostat houses, those closed out. And those closed out [inaudible 01:04:52] within one year after the Apple came onto the market. Changed the whole face of downtown Manhattan, which used to be all type setting printers and photostat houses. By 1991 it was virtually a ghost town from those businesses. They had gone.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
They had transitioned to something else. So some of the photostat houses turned into scanning places. So they could scan some original art now because illustration, especially big pieces. Because at that time a lot of the illustrators still did the work by hand. They didn’t do digital work and some of these pieces were pretty big. They couldn’t fit your normal day tabletop scan because all this stuff back then was pricey as heck. Tabletop scanner poly was like next to a $1,000. That was a lot of money. So it was cheaper just to send it out and get a $50 scan now and you just get that scan to you and you can put it on. But that changed the where you no longer now had your battle scars so your fingers were saved, you didn’t have to cut up your fingers anymore. And it also kept from getting blood on the boards. Because that was always interesting when we got blood on the boards. Because you had to wipe that out. Otherwise that’s in the actual, when they shoot it. Now it’s just clean.

And now at this point though, our role shifted as creatives because so much stuff relied on us. We actually had to know how to operate this Mac inside and out. Especially when if there was a problem with the Mac. Yeah, we had IT, quote “IT department”, but thankfully the Mac was and still is very sort of self-sufficient. So when things go down it’s kind of easy to figure out what’s going on to get it back up. But that usually relied to us. In the beginning we had a service that would come in and fix that stuff, but eventually the owner was like, “Look, you guys are working on this. Do you know how to do this because we’re cutting this.” But it actually opened up more doors on the creative side.

I mean, yes, we lost a lot of industry and a lot of people had to adapt, some folks didn’t because of the manual nature of design at that point. A lot of them were older generations. So they did not want to learn how to use the computers and learned these programs, very much today. It’s a generational thing. The older generation just was like, “I can’t change. I learned all this. How am I going to, I don’t want to sit down and learn this whole new program and this contraption to do this.” And that’s where a lot of folks didn’t make that transition. They either had to leave the industry and do something else or just completely retire.

And like I said, that changed the shape of downtown Manhattan because it also changed the printers. And a lot of those started consolidating and shrinking down to what we see today. But it also sped up our creative process. So if we had an idea, we could actually instantaneously see how it works. Where at that time it was QuarkXpress, that was the defacto thing. There was no creative cloud. Adobe was this brand new company battling with Macromedia, battling with, what was the other one? Oh, Publisher. Yes. QuarkXpress had to battle Microsoft Publisher back in the day.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember Microsoft Publisher.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, we had not Illustrator, but it was freehand and Photoshop was Photoshop. That never disappeared. And so you had to buy all these individually. So back then being a designer was expensive.

Maurice Cherry:
Expensive. Mm-hmm.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Because the Macs themselves were these god awful paper weights. Because the face of the Apple, I mean at the time it looks sleek, but looking at it now, it’s like, oh man, that’s [inaudible 01:09:16].

Maurice Cherry:
It was a big rectangle kind of thing, right?

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It was like the screen and the CPU were all in one.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yes, that version. Yes, they had that. The screen was probably no more than maybe 13 inches, which seemed big at the time. And then they transitioned to having the monitor separate from the tower because everything was a tower back then. And that’s where the screen started getting bigger and stuff. But it’s still, it cost a lot of money and everything was on a disc. Nothing was cloud-based. Because the internet didn’t come into play until 1985. Is that correct?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, the cloud wasn’t a thing back then. Everything was-

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Yeah, the cloud didn’t exist.

Maurice Cherry:
Everything was floppy discs. And then the floppy discs gave way to those smaller hard discs.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Floppy to the ZIP to actually floppy to the Quest, to the ZIP to the dat. Thank God we didn’t have to do the dat much. And then there was something in between. It was a hybrid of a ZIP and the Quest, is that right? I forgot the technology in it. But it went through some iterations in the span of five years. Now each year was something new, which was expensive. It was crap. I mean it didn’t come out of my pocket, but it was expensive. But you had to adapt to each of those technologies and stuff.

Basically if you kind of damaged your CDs, there was no way to get a backup. If your machines got corrupted, the disc got corrupted and corrupted meaning by, just scratched the back of that disc because somebody did not put it up properly. It’s done. That would mean you have to spend another $1,000 to go buy some brand new disc of one program. Same with type, you have to do same with type, all that stuff. But it did enable to have more creative tools at hand. So if you had an idea, you could still do it by hand, but now you could translate it, do your sketch and translate it onto the computer where you can actually do different variations in the same day where it may have taken us a few days to do iterations of one idea.

And that sped up a lot of stuff and it was kind of cool. It expanded our imaginations. It put more responsibility on us, which I liked because I liked being in control and knowing what’s going on with the Mac and the program so that way I could troubleshoot myself. Because at that time I was thinking, okay, this is going to be helpful for one day when I want to start freelancing and get my own materials or when one day I have my own studio. Because back then I thought about my end goals. I had this studio, get this whole staff and become a small to midsize kind of well known studio. And that’s pretty much the early days. It was very much unexplored. So anything and everything was open and it was just, if you were into adventure, it was an adventure. You were so curious to see what the next thing was going to be.

Whereas today I’m like, “Look, slow down. Yeah, there’s too much stuff coming out. I just learned this, now you got something new. No, no, no, no, that’s not happening. That’s too fast.” As well as I think today, technology’s great, but I think it also makes people stupider, people put more faith on the tech versus their thinking and they’re not sort of, they’re relying too much on the machine and not relying on themselves. Because the machine is just a tool. And in the early days we did see that. It was just a tool. That’s all we looked at. It was like, unless we had our thoughts together before we went to the machine, we’d be wasting our time. Because you’re just fiddling around just getting lost in this virtual world. Today it seems to be the reverse. People don’t mind fiddling on there and they spend so many hours that basically are futile, they just waste stuff.

But that’s how the early days were. It was a really a fun exploratory, I don’t want to say Wild, Wild West, but it kind of was a Wild, Wild West. And then when the net came on board, because I remember fully using the internet in ’95, but we actually did have the internet. The company was called a Mavety Media. I think that came, we had that online around 1993 because I left Mavety Media in 1995. So yeah, I think it had just started. And at that time I think it was all, everything was AOL or Netscape. And the net just was, oh, we just went bonkers with that. It was just like, oh, I can get this right now. Even though that was on dial up. So that was taking a long time. Dial up, I don’t miss at all. You could not do any high files with that or anything like that. It just was too slow. But that’s what the early days were like. It was kind of cool.

Maurice Cherry:
When I give presentations sometimes I’ll tell people how in the early days of the web you had a fast lane and a slow lane. The fast lane was like if you had 56K and the slow lane was 28.8. I love that you’re talking about all of this because I feel like this is something which is definitely not talked about in this current age of design. Everything is done in the cloud, on the web, on a PC or a Mac so quickly. Sometimes even just on mobile devices. I see what people do designing on just mobile devices. And I’m like, “This blows my mind.” Because I was in high school in the ’90s when a lot of this technology was coming out. And to your point, as you were mentioning, these things were changing rapidly, as the technology was changing, there were no sort of monopolies like an Adobe, like we’re talking about now. But there was Adobe, there was Macromedia, there were other sorts of products. There was Quark. You had to try to figure out which one you wanted to do.

It was all extremely expensive and there really was no, I want to say there was no learning curve, but you learned by having to actually get in there and work it or go through those huge big, thick instruction manuals. Because there’s no-

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s no YouTube video, there’s no class you can go to that’s going to teach you how to do this. You got to read that 1,000 page manual and figure out how to type set these columns and how to do all this stuff. I mean, to your point about the Wild, Wild West, it really was a time when I think innovation was happening at a speed where people were really just trying to catch up.

You had these different options. Like you said, you could do Quark, you could do Adobe, you could do Macromedia. And a lot of jobs sometimes even when you applied to them wanted you to know one more than the other. It wasn’t so much about whether or not I think you had the skill, but more so whether you knew the program. And I think that’s something which technology has definitely changed a lot. It’s less about the skills and more about, “Do you know how to use Figma? Do you know how to use Sketch?” And it’s like, “But I’m a designer.” And they’re like, “Well we really well we use Figma. So do you know how to use that?” It’s so different now.

Andrew Bass Jr.:
Well, I mean back then when I was looking at stuff, when I was doing job searches, when I was moving from space to space, the thing that did start happening was that they wanted you to know this insane amount of programs. I think they just listed these programs because that’s what was out. And they were like, we want you to know everything. And it’s like, “Okay, that’s impossible. You can’t know all this stuff.” And it was very much, I don’t think they really wanted skill set, but just to say, “Okay, well we have somebody who knows this,” regardless of whether or not they actually know how to use it. I could have just went into the program one time just to look at it, oh, I know this program now.

That kind of impeded some people as they looked for jobs back then because it was like, “Look, I don’t know this stuff. I’m not going to put this down and then get busted when they give me this.” And like, “Hey, we need this full fledged project done in this, by this time,” and you don’t even know what you’re doing with it. I mean, granted, there were some people who did do that and coasted by until they got found out later on. But by then they could kind of sweet talk it through and then others shamelessly got blasted. I remember that back then. But yeah, it’s where it went from it was like more, “Okay, what is your true skill set and experience that you’ve actually shown a pattern of this,” versus, “Here’s our laundry list. Just let us know you’ve done this.”

I still kind of see that today though. And whenever there’s some new tech out, I do see some of these listings out here. It’s like, “Hey, do you know this?” I’m like, “Okay, that just came out last week. How are people going to know this?” But I mean I think that’s going to stick forever that’s going to be there. Because any new tech that comes out, I think people in the who post these jobs, I don’t think they’re really the ones that, and we all know it’s HR departments, and so the HR departments don’t really know what people do in their day to day stuff. So I think they just put all the trendy stuff in there just to cover their bases.

But I do miss some of that from back in the day. And it was kind of cool. And I mean, there is some new stuff like that today, particularly in terms of web and video that I see some parallels that I’m like, “Ooh, that’s intriguing.” But now with a seasoned book, I’m like, “Wow, that’s kind overwhelming.” I kind of feel overwhelmed at times. Like, oh, I don’t know if I’m going to learn all that. Yeah. But it would be cool. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right. Yeah.

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Keni Thacker

If you’ve been keeping up with the advertising world over the past couple of years, then this week’s guest hardly needs an introduction. Meet chief diversity creative Keni Thacker, founder and chief creative officer of 100 Roses from Concrete. Keni uses his decades of experience in the industry to challenge norms while also advocating for diversity and inclusion for the current and next generation of creatives.

Keni and I spoke about 100 Roses from Concrete, including how the agency began and its current group of fellows that have come through the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative. Keni also talked about growing up in the DMV area, and how his family and environment help shaped him into the force for change that he is today.

Catch Keni next during Adobe MAX, October 26-28!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Tell us who you are and what you do.

Keni Thacker:
Hey. I’m Keni Thacker, Chief Diversity Creative at Keni Thacker, and also the founder of 100 Roses From Concrete, the premier network for people of color in advertising, marketing media and public relations. What I do during the day, and I can’t say during the night, but during the day, and during the day, I work with advertising agencies, big and small to help them build out their diversity and inclusion platforms and partnerships and programs, and just overall policies and practices as well.

Keni Thacker:
I feel like that’s super, super important. That’s where my passion has been for like the last 10 years, I would say being in advertising, even though I’ve been in advertising for 15 years. Then on the 100 Roses side, as the founder and chief creative officer, I’ve run an organization of about 100, maybe 130 people plus from around the country and it’s basically a professional development kind of network for people of color and women throughout those industries.

Keni Thacker:
We stand on the principles of connect, collaborating and growing together because that’s something that I’ve learned throughout my journeys, is something that’s so very, very important to have as talented creative people, whether it’s strategy people, project management, people, whatever the role is within advertising. I think it’s so very, very important to have a community where you can do those three things, connect, collaborate, and grow.

Keni Thacker:
As André 3000 would say, “Creating a community for opportunity.” That’s what I’ve been doing with 100 Roses From Concrete. That’s what I do.

Maurice Cherry:
How has this year been going for you so far?

Keni Thacker:
Man, this year has been a whirlwind. I would say the last two years have been a whirlwind, but like the whirlwind just continues to happen. Despite our country and society kind of being on a fire, whether it’s from the police stuff, or the government stuff, or the health stuff, I’ve been kind of been like the Phoenix that’s been rising, or better yet, like the roads that grew from concrete. So it’s been good needless to say, there’s been a lot of opportunity, a lot of meeting a lot of great people, a lot of partnering with great people and things of that nature.

Keni Thacker:
I look at the world outside of my window kind of being on flames, inside, we’ve been lucky, my family and I have been lucky to be extremely safe and not gotten sick and anything like that. So I’m doing okay, they’re doing okay. But as career-wise, it’s definitely been one for the history books, needless to say, as someone who… Oh, and I’ll probably talk about this a little later, but as someone who was always in the room where it happened, but never had a seat at the table, I’ve definitely gained my seat at the table by creating my own opportunities over the last, going on two years.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I certainly know what that feels like, being able to make year away from something that you’ve created. How have things changed for you since the start of last year?

Keni Thacker:
How they’ve changed is I guess by creating my own… Well, I guess I’ve always had a brand, but by having the opportunity to really let my brand just do what it’s going to do without any restriction or without having my hand slapped, needless to say has been absolutely great. It has been absolutely great because I get to choose who I want to work with and who I don’t want to work with, and basically dictate my own path. It’s something that I may have thought of maybe when I first got out of school, like “Yeah, one day I’m going to start my own company.”

Keni Thacker:
But as of last year I was even more thrown into the wild and I was like, “Yeah, it’s just time to pull that plug and really just start my own thing.” So I have to say that I’ve been extremely blessed that a lot of the people that I work with are people that I used to work with, but at a different place. But being able to see them in positions of power and then seeing me doing the work that I’m doing, and then them supporting me and the work that I’m doing to also make their agencies better. It’s been an absolute blessing.

Keni Thacker:
There’s too many names to shout out, because it would take more than the hour and a half of this podcast. But yeah, just shout out to all my people, y’all know who y’all are. They definitely been able to look out. Because in full transparency, when COVID hit, I got let go from where I was working. Because I was a consultant and I got let go, and for about a week or so, I was like, “What am I going to do? I’m used to like always ever since like high school, like always used to having a job, so I had never really been let go before.

Keni Thacker:
When that happened, it really hit me in a different way psychologically, but then it was like, “Maybe this is the boost that I need to really just say, “Keni, start your own thing.” That’s exactly what I did and I remember it even after I got out of my funk, I remember tweeting and even, I think maybe in my Instagram stories, I just put like free agent. And after that happened, my inbox started blowing up.

Keni Thacker:
That’s when I knew I was like, “Yep, it’s time to really… All these great ideas that I had and things that I wanted to do within the space of D&I, I was like, “This is the time to do it and things of that nature,” just due to the fact that the industry had renewed its interest in it, even though I’ve been doing this stuff for like 10 years. But being able to do it on my own rather than under the auspices of a huge company just makes it easier because I’m able to get things done in three months that I couldn’t get done in like 10 years or eight years.

Keni Thacker:
Being able to have these like very direct honest conversations with these CEOs and different leadership people within the companies that I work with is great because before, I would have to wait weeks to get on somebody’s calendar. Now, when it’s like, “Oh, Keni needs to talk to the CEO.” It’s not even a matter of me going through an assistant, it’s just me hitting up whoever my friend is, who’s the CEO or the head of talent like, “Hey, I got to talk to you about this. We should do this.” And they’re like, “Of course.”

Keni Thacker:
So it’s just so much better and so much fun, but also impactful in a way that I want things to stay. I want to keep the heat on in regards to this conversation, because so many times it’ll get hot and then it’ll go cold. My job is to keep the heat on as much as I possibly can with the companies that I work with, but also just in the work with the roses well as making sure that our talent knows what they’re getting into by walking into this industry where a lot of other faces don’t really look like theirs.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, you have to keep that momentum going, especially, I think last year when as you alluded to, so many companies and organizations and stuff really started to look at what they were doing around showcasing black voices and black talent. Unfortunately this happened in the shadow of the murder of George Floyd, but companies started to come to and say, “Oh, well, there’s more that we need to do for our black workforces in particular.” But yeah, you have to keep that momentum going because I think as probably most working black professionals know, whenever these kinds of things spark up, they can very easily fade away.

Maurice Cherry:
For lack of a better term, you have to keep your foot on their neck to make sure that things will still happen, to make sure that the [crosstalk 00:11:14] pledges that they have put forth will actually bear fruit and not just be a good PR opportunity.

Keni Thacker:
And to borrow a word from you. I just don’t want them to be pledges, I want this to be practice, I want this to be policy. Because anybody can pledge $5,000 to the NAACP or to whatever, but that’s a one time thing and you’re not really being held to the fire. Because it’s like, oh, well we did that and we can say, “Oh, in 2021, we gave $5,000 to the NAACP or United Negro College Fund,” or whatever you want to call it. But what about in the next year? Just because you donated a certain dollar amount doesn’t make the problem go away.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. A lot of these bigger companies will do that, they’ll just write a check and think that-

Keni Thacker:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… will solve everything.

Keni Thacker:
Last year, probably last July, so just a little bit over a year ago, so last July I wrote an article for The Drum or an op-ed, better yet for The Drum, and I said, “advertising, you’re late.” Because the way I was seeing different brands and huge agencies respond to the George Floyd murder, let’s call it what it is, I was just like, “You’re late, bro. Police have been killing black people for 100s of years.” And not even the one time that it’s caught on television, but the one time that it blew everything up, then, Ooh, we care so much about black lives.”

Keni Thacker:
But no one was really saying that when our babies were being murdered, When Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, no one was raising arms saying, “Oh my God, this is horrible.” It took for a guy that’s literally, I think George Floyd, if he was still alive would be a few years older than me for them to care. But when our babies were getting murdered, nobody gave… Excuse my language, but nobody gave a you know what.

Keni Thacker:
So to me during that period and seeing all these really big chest-beating moments for different agencies, I was like, “Wow. So now you care and now you going to allocate millions of dollars towards diversity.” But in my days coming up, I had to beg for money for my budget to do the projects that I was doing. Literally, and I’m talking about, not millions, I’m talking about like little bit of thousands of dollars for my projects. Beg literally like, “Please I need this.”

Keni Thacker:
Walking up to leadership’s face and be like, “Hey, why was my budget cut and why didn’t nobody tell me?” Those were the things that I had to do back when I was doing it on the agency side. But after the murder of someone that looks like me, it could have been my cousin, my brother, my neighbor, whatever, all of a sudden we’ve got millions. We’ve got millions also in the middle of a pandemic.

Keni Thacker:
I’m sorry, I don’t understand that math because I don’t understand that… Those agencies had millions of dollars in the middle of the pandemic while also laying off people at the same time. That’s why when a lot of interviews I was in last year, people like, “How do you think this is going to go and everything like that?” I was like, “Talk to me in five years, because by next year, ain’t nothing going to be different. Ain’t nothing going to be different.”

Keni Thacker:
Yes, has the great, I call it the black gold kind of situation right now where brothers and sisters are finally getting the opportunities that they deserve? Yeah, it’s great right now, or as another friend of mine calls it, the great black mining or the great resignation of talent of color, because now they’re actually going to places that are giving them a proper bag. Yeah, that’s what we’re in right now, but do I believe that this is going to be something that’s going to last long? I just don’t know. I just don’t know.

Keni Thacker:
Because what happens after everyone gets these jobs and things of that nature, but then like as we said earlier, the foot comes off the gas because these agencies are like, “Oh, well, we’ve gotten close to our goals and now we do have a brother or sister or two in leadership, but it’s still not like 50% BIPOC, 50 that white people in leadership.” That’s not going to happen until I’m dead in the grave to be totally honest with you.

Keni Thacker:
So it’s just like, when people ask me like, “Do you think like this is going to change something?” I was like, “I hope it changes something.” But from talking to OGs like Tom Barrell, he says, “This happens every 10 to 20 years, something happens and then everyone cares. And then after a while, it just dies down.” And I would say, even now, as we’re having this conversation, the wind behind the diversity and inclusion’s backs the way it was like last summer, it’s a softer wind right now. It’s not as hard as it was like pushing our boats in whatever it is up the stream.

Keni Thacker:
No, no, no. The wind is a whole lot lighter now. It’s a whole lot lighter now because they build some of these roles and things of that nature, and now every time I hear about a big agency doing something, it’s like, “Oh, well, we’re planning this and we’re planning that,” but I never really see anything come to fruition. They’re like, “Oh wow, I’m impressed,” because all I ever hear is dollar amounts.

Keni Thacker:
I don’t hear about practices, policies, partnerships, and programs that are actually going to really shift the needle. I don’t see that, I just hear talking. Like I said, you put a quarter in me, bruh, you got to wait till the song goes out.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, speaking of these programs and opportunities and such, 100 Roses From Concrete grew out of this environment last year, is that right? You founded it last year and one of the things that you have going on in the program is something that’s called the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative. Can you talk about that?

Keni Thacker:
Yeah. 100 Roses I actually found it in 2019.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Keni Thacker:
Back when diversity wasn’t cool, that’s when I founded it. I founded it in 2019, but we didn’t have our big bang until COVID hit. It was crazy. At the beginning, March last year, Adweek, shout out to ad week, I’ll shout out to Adweek all day. Adweek wrote an article about 100 Roses from Concrete and immediately like our membership tripled in like two weeks. But then by the second week of March, here comes the lockdown. Here comes the lockdown, the organization was only running for probably about six months or so, and then everything is locked down, nobody can go nowhere, et cetera, et cetera.

Keni Thacker:
But one of the many thoughts that I had in regards to going onto a virtual platform, 100 Roses, because we used to actually meet in-person was that I have been working with young people, trying to get into the industry for the last 10 years, black and brown, white, whatever, it doesn’t matter what you are. As long as you want to be in this industry, I would mentor you, talk to you, things of that nature. So immediately I thought about young people’s internships for the summer of 2020.

Keni Thacker:
And how I was hearing right before I got let go from the agency where I was you that, “Oh, we’re killing the summer internships, layoffs are coming,” et cetera, et cetera. And I was like, “Well, damn.” I was like, “Well, that’s not fair,” because when you think about the summer internship, that’s that experience in your career, especially if you’re still in college, that’s that experience that either makes or breaks you. You either know that, oh, this is for me or no, it’s not.

Keni Thacker:
Thinking about how many young people were going to lose that opportunity last summer, immediately, I was like, “No, no, no, no, no, no. I’m not going to let this happen. I’m not going to let this happen.” So immediately I brought together my team from 100 Roses and I was like, “Look,” I was like, “This is happening, this is about to start happening any day now.” And it did. And I was like, “I want to create a program that’s going to be virtual and it’s going to be for multicultural college kids from around the country, but it’s going to have them actually doing real work in real time virtually.”

Keni Thacker:
And I was like, ‘Look, I know it’s a tall ask. Y’all don’t want to do it, cool, but I’m going to do it.” Because I was already doing programs like this back at two agencies before I got let go, so I already knew how to do this, but I used to do it in-person. So I was like, “Look, this is what I want to do.” And I was like, I want to call it G.R.O.W.T.H.? And they were like, “Cool.” I was like, “I want to call it The G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative obviously because I’m a Marvel fan.”

Keni Thacker:
And then I had given the word G.R.O.W.T.H. to my creative team at 100 Roses From Concrete. I was like, “Somebody come up with a acronym,” and everything they sent me back was… It wasn’t trash, I just didn’t like it. And they were having a hard time with it and I was like, “Okay.” I was like, “Give me about an hour.” And then I came back to them, I was like, “Look, this is what I want it to be, Giving Real Opportunity With Talent and Heart.” And that’s what G.R.O.W.T.H. stands for.

Keni Thacker:
That’s literally like, it should be the name of my autobiography because that’s all I’ve been trying to do my entire career, is Give Real Opportunity With Talent and Heart. I’m not trying to build advertising or creative robot here. No, I’m not trying to do that. We give out awards, especially this year in particularly we gave out four financial awards. Actually we gave out eight financial awards at the end of this summer and we call them The Life After G.R.O.W.T.H. Awards.

Keni Thacker:
For each award, we give out two of them, so each award starts with a H. We give award for hustle, we give award for being human, we give award for being humble, and we also give an award for being human. That’s what we’re looking for when we’re working with these young people and we see it come out of them throughout the program as they work for nonprofit clients across the country. Hell bruh, like this year, The G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative was international and this is only our second year.

Keni Thacker:
So by keeping our foot on the gas and giving real opportunity with talent and heart, we’re able to actually see the change happen in real time. And then also work with agency partners that understand the value that this type of talent brings to the table at the end of the day. Shout out to R\West, shout out to Dego, shout out to Adobe, shout out to Samuels for being really, really great partners and realizing their value. And 21GRAMS/Real Chemistry, shout out to them too for really pulling up and saying, “We believe in what you’re doing and we definitely want to bring these young people in to make our agencies better at the end of the day.”

Keni Thacker:
And that’s just this year, last year we had absolutely no partners. The only partner we had was Advertising Club of New York who we’re still partnering with, but Advertising Club of New York helped get us more students to be in the program. So it’s not like they were giving us internships or full-time jobs or whatever the case may be. But shout out to Advertising Club of New York because they saw what we were doing and they approached us and we were like, “Hey, the more the merrier, let’s do it.”

Keni Thacker:
Also shout out to Save The Internships NY from last year that partnered with us as well. Because they saw what we were doing, they saw that we were grassroots. We’re not about trying to… I don’t even know what we were trying to do last year, but somehow we were like literally building the plane when we were flying it. But it worked out, because most of the fellows from last year, majority of them, especially that were career-ready already have jobs within the industry.

Keni Thacker:
And now even as I speak to you today, six of my fellows that just graduated back in the middle of August already have job opportunities. They’re not full-time job opportunities, they’re internships for the fall already.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Keni Thacker:
When I tell you that I’m keeping my foot on the gas, I’m keeping my foot on the gas and I’m going fast as possible.

Maurice Cherry:
And now one of the other opportunities that has arose and it’s also part of why you’re on the show right now is that you’re going to be speaking at Adobe Max this year. Can you give a little sneak peek about what your talk’s going to be about?

Keni Thacker:
Yeah, man. Adobe Max is like the cherry on the cake this year in regard… You asked me how my year was going and I was like, “Yo, it’s been super wild and everything like that.” When I got the email to participate in Adobe Max, I was like, “What?” I was like, “You sure you got the right person?” Because Adobe has been extremely generous to 100 Roses From Concrete and I’m beyond appreciative for everyone at Adobe that were able to hook us up with the technology resources for the young people in the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative.

Keni Thacker:
Shout out to Harvey, shout out to Meg, shout out to everybody at Adobe that was doing it. But my talk at the Adobe Max Conference will be actually me and I’ll be hosted by my friend, Meg, who’s just awesome. We were like instant friends. Meg and I are basically going to be talking about how to level the playing field in the creative industries. How do you do that? Throughout our conversation, we don’t have as much time as you and I do on this podcast. Meg and I are going to be talking about the four things that I feel are most important to leveling this playing field.

Keni Thacker:
So we’re going to get into access, we’re going to get into opportunity, we’re going to get into experience and exposure. Because those four things right there are what talent of color needs, just talent, period, needs in order to really figure out ways to really level this playing field and making it fair for everyone. But I’m not only going to talk about the first part, but it all starts, Maurice with access. It all starts with access. If you want to understand why there’s such a disparity between of people of color and our white brothers and sisters, it all starts with access.

Keni Thacker:
It’s the allocation of resources. So when you think about the huge gap between financial resources, educational resources, housing resources, all those things, it starts with access. So I’m going to talk about that, and then I’m going to go down this like ski slope of talking about the three other things as well and how they’re all actually interconnected, and how if we view our diversity problems through that lens, we can actually get to…

Keni Thacker:
I’m not going to say there’s a definitive answer because the answer is going to be different for everybody, but at least to a solution, and to a solution that we can continue to grow and build and evolve over time. That’s where that access, opportunity, experience and exposure all are very, very important.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I’ve done Revision Path for what? Eight and a half? Oh my God, eight and a half years now, and I’ve had a number of conversations just around diversity in advertising, diversity in design, diversity in tech, et cetera. These conversations, aside from them running in tandem with each others for years, these have also been perennial conversations. If I were even to just pinpoint it for design, this is a conversation that has been going on at least since the ’80s, for example.

Maurice Cherry:
So you got these different industries, but they have the same goals as it relates to diversity and inclusion, diversifying the workforce, opportunities, things of that nature. A lot of what you’re mentioning to me sounds very similar to what I’ve heard from AIGA and what that they’ve tried to accomplish through their working groups and symposiums in the ’90s and stuff like that.

Maurice Cherry:
From your perspective, what do you think it would look like if these different initiatives work together? Say, what you’re doing with 100 Roses works with, I don’t know, I’m just pulling stuff out of my head, like say, diversity and design or design to divest or other types of things. What do you think it would look like if [crosstalk 00:26:52] these groups from different industries, yeah, if they work together?

Keni Thacker:
If they work together, that’s how the foot stays on the gas, because then it doesn’t become, oh, we only talk about this during this time of year. 200 Roses, I have this thing called, that I just created not too long ago, but I guess it’s always been in the back of my mind when I think about me mentoring and counseling. I have this thing called a cadence of care, and when you create a cadence of care, that’s how you know that there’s certain times when you have to discuss this, and then the conversation does not go stale and it doesn’t grow old.

Keni Thacker:
Because we find new ways to keep it relevant at all times. So if we were to bring all these different resources and movements and things like that together into some type of Voltron-ish type of being, then every single part, whether it’s the legs, whether it’s the arms, whether it’s the legs, whether it’s the chest, we would know that we have to keep moving. Because Voltron don’t do jack if it’s just standing still, so it has to keep moving. So by bringing…

Keni Thacker:
Because I know people that run their own entities, good friends of mine that run their own different entities, I got the one school, we got Marcus Graham Project, we got The One Club, all these other different things. But we all run separately, but we’re actually all going in the same direction, is that we’re just all in different lane. So it’s a matter of that, knowing we all have the same destination, but I don’t even look at it as a destination because I feel like we need to keep just going, it needs to keep going.

Keni Thacker:
But that’s the way I would probably have to answer that question, is that if we were to build something like that, we will all know that we have to hold each other responsible order to keep that blood flowing and keep our foot on the gas to keep it going at all times.

Keni Thacker:
Because the moment we stall is the moment things will go back to the way they used to be. You said this conversation and design is going back to the ’80s, the conversation about diversity and advertising goes back to the ’60s, goes back to ’60s. An individual that I have to always shout out during all my interviews is, goes back to the late great Bill Sharp. He was the first group copy supervisor at JWT where I used to work like two years ago.

Keni Thacker:
And he passed away sadly in 2013, but he’s technically considered the godfather of diversity in advertising, because he was talking about it back in like the ’60s, back in the ’60s, he was talking about it. Once I learned about Bill’s work and what bill did with the basic advertising course, which is similar to like the Marcus Graham Project or the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative or the OneSchool. Once I found out about his work, I was like, “There’s no way I can work at the same agency as this great black man used to work,” not the same office, but the same agency where I used to work, “and me not give two damns about this topic and not put my days and nights, and weekends, whatever into this work.”

Keni Thacker:
Once I was properly informed about Bill, and Bill’s not taught about in ad school. A lot of times you bring up the word, Bill Sharp, people are like, “Who?” But he even wrote a book back in the ’60s that I assign to my G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative fellows called How To Get A Job in the Advertising Business and Be Black Anyway. I may have got a word or two wrong, but it’s an amazing book, and it’s only like 19 pages. But even if you read that book today, it sounds like bill is talking to you right now. That’s how important it’s.

Keni Thacker:
Yeah man. Bill keeps me inspired and last year I was honored enough to receive his award for the future of advertising and I keep it right here above my desk lit up all the time. But yeah, Bill is the man and I’m very close to his family and everything like that. I keep them informed of everything that I’m doing and they always be like, “Yo, Bill would be proud if he was still around.”

Keni Thacker:
Having that co-sign from the Sharp family is something that keeps me going, but also if there’s opportunities to pull, whether it’s agencies or small movements like myself with me, that’s what I’m going to do. But that’s what it’s going to take. The Voltron cannot stand still, because if it does, we’re going to lose time and we’re going to lose space to gain that leverage within the industry.

Maurice Cherry:
And I have to say, I’m pretty sure, in terms of those conversations that you mentioned taking place since the ’60s, that’s where I think the genesis of it for design has also come from too. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that. I feel like Cheryl Miller and many other luminaries of this issue will probably get at beyond that. But certainly I think these conversations have originated from a similar place because of course advertising really well known back then.

Maurice Cherry:
Even if you think about design as we look at it now, it grew out of that creative field, so that makes sense there.

Maurice Cherry:
Switching gears because I know we spent a lot of time talking about what you’re doing now with 100 Roses, your Adobe Max talk. I see from looking at your Instagram that you’re a huge Marvel fan. I want to get [crosstalk 00:32:03] the Keni Thacker origin story. Talk to me about where you grew up.

Keni Thacker:
Yeah man. I grew up in Washington, D.C. in Maryland, like the DMV area. DMV was Maryland, D.C., Virginia. That’s where I grew up. That’s where before moving to New York, senior year of high school, even though I still finished my senior year of high school, my mother-in-law moved to New York. I finished high school and then when college came, when Lincoln University came into the play, I was already living in New York. I’ve been living in New York literally now more than half of my life to be totally honest with you.

Keni Thacker:
That’s where I grew up, so days and nights in the DMV, and then early adult years, just been here in New York ever since. That’s like my origin story. In regards to just like getting into the industry, I always say my origin story is nothing fabulous. I don’t have like these great stories to be like, “Oh, well, I was in Marple or I was in Marcus Graham Project or I was in the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative or whatever the case may be.” That’s not how I got into advertising.

Keni Thacker:
I would say, my first couple years after college, I worked in, I guess, the hospitality industry, so like conference centers, and hotels and things that nature, doing a lot of technology work and things that nature. Like sound systems, projectors, lighting, audio, things of that nature. Eight audio visual, event technology, whatever you want to call it, but that’s actually what landed me into advertising.

Keni Thacker:
As a freelancer, doing that work, I landed into Ogilvy and the first day I was in Ogilvy, I didn’t even know what Ogilvy really was until I was looking at the walls of the old Ogilvy office and seeing these different ads like the Superman, American Express ads and things of that nature and I was like, “Do they make commercials here?” And sure enough, they did. And spent a little bit of time at Ogilvy, but then while I was at Ogilvy, I got a call from, at least the agency formally known JWT at the time. Asked me if I was interested in a job and I was like, “I don’t even know what JWT is.”

Keni Thacker:
So I asked one of the people at Ogilvy. I was like, “Hey, this place called JWT.” They’re like, “Oh, it’s just like here, except they’re a little bit older.” I was like, “Oh, cool.” Went to JWT on like a lunch break or whatever, knocked out that interview, went for another interview and I had the job. And I spent 13 years at JWT and I would say, 2011 is when I actually started the D&I work that I’ve been doing, and then I left there on a high note doing the D&I work, but still doing the technical work as well.

Keni Thacker:
The technical work was always like the stuff that paid the bills, but the D&I work was something that I just did because I was passionate about it. Luckily, I had a few resources that let me do the D&I work. And even when I was at JWT in particular, I created a program called The Young Commodores, which is very similar to the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative, except it was in-person. It was definitely not over 50 young people from around the country.

Keni Thacker:
It was actually the first high school, college mashed up of multicultural students that learned about the business and worked on real life clients. I created The Young Commodores and ran that for about three years. And then at the end of those three years is when I decided to leave JWT. And that’s when I left it for PR for a little bit. Then after PR that’s when I created my own company, Keni Thacker, but also before that departure from JWT is when I created 100 Roses From Concrete.

Keni Thacker:
Nothing too fabulous, but more just like falling into opportunities per se, but also making the most out of those opportunities when I had them.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s bring it back because you definitely put the foot on the gas there in regards to the origin story, but let’s bring it back to those DMV years now. I heard that your mom was a copywriter, so your mom was in the ad industry as well. Is that where you got your spark for this kind of work?

Keni Thacker:
Well, my mom was a copywriter very, very, very, very, very, very, very briefly. I didn’t realize that she was a copywriter until I was at JWT. Because I was like, “Is that what mom was doing?” Because I remember like going with her to the studio and someone was reading the words that she wrote. So I didn’t really understand it until I was actually in the advertising industry to understand. But my mom has lived like a million lives of needless to say, and copywriter was like one of those.

Keni Thacker:
She’s been a teacher, she still is a teacher, but as far as like educating people, that’s been like, I would say a really big bulk of her career, but she did do a brief stint as a copywriter. What agency? I have no clue because I was a little kid. I don’t even think she remembers, but she had a brief stint. And then when I was actually in ad school, shout out to the Adhouse, I was like, “I think this is what mom used to do back when I was like,” I could barely remember needless to say, but yeah.

Keni Thacker:
So the creative arts per se has always been in me somewhat. Don’t get it messed up. I can’t draw to save my life, so let’s not even go there. Any artists out there grab GDs as I call them, respect to you all. I can’t draw to save my life, but I can write a line or two, needless to say and I know good copy when I see it. So on the writing side, that’s something that I’ve always done. I’ve always written stories or back in the high school days in the DMV, I used to write a couple raps, did a couple rap showcases, things of that nature.

Keni Thacker:
But unfortunately during those days in the ’90s, there was two great artists that came on the scene that kind of made me feel like, “You know what, you can’t do this?” And one goes by the name of the late great Christopher Wallace and the other Tupac Shakur. I was like, “Oh, okay, these dudes are really good at this. I’m not that great.” So I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to go to college. I’m not going to make it as a rapper.”

Maurice Cherry:
And speaking of college, what made you decide to go to Lincoln? Because you’re in the DMV, there’s Howard, there’s other HBCU. Not saying that going to an HBCU was… I don’t know if that was the goal or not, but what made you decide to go to Lincoln?

Keni Thacker:
What made me go to Lincoln was that my high school was in the burbs of Maryland, so it was in this suburb called Germantown, Maryland. I would say, “Shout out to Germantown,” but I have nobody live there anymore. But my high school was like in the burb, so Germantown was maybe 30 minutes outside of D.C. My high school was pretty diverse, but I would say it was still majority white. It was probably about 30% kids of color, 70% white kids.

Keni Thacker:
During that time in particular in going to high school, it wasn’t like being in D.C. where my elementary school was like all just black and brown kids, pretty much all day, every day. But due to the fact that I spent this time at this very mixed high school per se, I knew that I needed like four years of unadulterated blackness, needless to say. So I only applied to actually HBCUs, I didn’t apply to any PWCs at all, because that’s just what I wanted to do.

Keni Thacker:
But also shout out to one of my high school teachers, actually two of my high school teachers, Ms. Smith and Ms. Wilder was from ninth grade to 10th grade… No, from ninth grade to 12th grade, we always had field trips to historically black colleges. And maybe one [inaudible 00:39:34] there, once in a blue moon, we go to William and Mary, but we always went to Hampton. We were supposed to go to Lincoln once, but we never did, but we did stop by Temple and there was always like different organizations would sponsor these black college tours.

Keni Thacker:
So I was able to visit Morehouse and Morris Brown. Obviously, I couldn’t go to Spelman, but like North Carolina A&T, I think I went there like twice when I was in high school. Those are the only kind of schools that I actually visited when I was in high school and I just knew that this was the kind of atmosphere that I would thrive in. Now, when it came to Lincoln, in particular, two friends of mine from high school actually went to Lincoln and they just raved about. They’re like, “Oh my God, it’s the…” And I was like, “Okay, cool.”

Keni Thacker:
So I applied, actually got in. And when I went there for like an open house, I guess, per se, even though I was already accepted, something about just the campus made me feel… Because Lincoln is not a big school. Lincoln is far from the size of Howard or even Hampton. It’s a really, really small school, but something about like the feel of the yard just made me feel like, by the time I leave here, everybody’s going to know my name. And that’s exactly what I did in four years.

Keni Thacker:
I did not major in business, I did not major in advertising. I majored in education because I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but there was just something about the experience from Lincoln. And I get this question a lot when people ask me about like my historically black college experience and I tell them, “You know what, It was bittersweet.” And I was like, “There was times when it was super sweet because I’m around my folks and everything like that, but also there was times when it was extremely bitter.”

Keni Thacker:
There was times when I didn’t want to go back to be totally honest with you. There was times when I definitely did not want to go back. But my mom, always being in my corner, she was like, “Hey, you’re going back.” She’s like, “When you graduate, we graduate.” And when she said that alone, that touched my heart and I was like, “Wow, this means so much to her that when I graduate, she graduates.” And not that to say that my mother doesn’t have degrees, now she has multiple degrees, but just that alone made me like, “Okay, I’ll go back and finish out.”

Keni Thacker:
I did it in a straight four years. Did two summer schools, but finished it in the exact four years that I was allotted to be there. And I’ve made some of my closest friends there like my roommates and everything like that. I’m still very close to one of my roommates, in particular, but still… Love to my other roommate as well, but still close to my friends there and it’s just something that can never be taken away from me, but even the rough times, I appreciate those rough times.

Keni Thacker:
Because when you think about how we interact with other races, especially the white race in particular, there’s certain things that we expect because it’s just systemic, it’s just systemic. That systemic hate is just something that the system creates. But when some of those bad times that you have with your own people, it almost feels like it’s your family hurting you. When people ask me about my historically black college experience, I’m like, “Well, it was great, but it also…” And this is kind of crazy math, but going to historically black college actually helped me deal with white people better.

Keni Thacker:
Because the rough times that I went through at a historically black college will always surpass my roughest day with a white person. Because with a white person, I know it’s something that it’s systemic and that’s just the world that we live in. Whereas when your own people do you dirty, it’s like… You feel like we’re neighbors, why you slap my mom? So it’s something that even those bad times, I still embrace them because they gave me such a tougher skin.

Keni Thacker:
Because when it’s your own people, it’s not a systemic type of player hating or whatever the case may be. It just hate at the end of the day and that hurts. But when it’s systemic, you kind of know like, “Oh, well this is just the system being the system and there’s not much I can really do to change this, because this was the system that person was also born into and that’s why they look at me this way.”

Keni Thacker:
That’s my whole HBCU thing till I die. Lincoln’s the first historically black college and a lot of the things that I try to do, just whether it’s in life or within my career is always trying to be the first. I went to the first historically black college, JWT was actually the first advertising agency per se. Bill Sharp, first group copy supervisor. I have one child, I’m an only child, my wife is an only child.

Keni Thacker:
There’s a whole lot of ones that follow my origin story and that’s just how I operate. Even when I think about The Young Commodores program, it was the first high school, college mashup program to develop talent of color and white kids as well in the whole advertising business period. So it’s just something that I constantly try to do, I just try to… There’s a lot of ones along my story.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. Lincoln is a very well known HBCU. Like you said, it’s the first HBCU, Langston Hughes is an alumni, Thurgood Marshall is an alumni.

Keni Thacker:
Yeah. Albert Einstein visited there.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice. Okay.

Keni Thacker:
There’s a photo of Albert Einstein at Lincoln, like back in the black and white photo days. I don’t know when exactly it was, but even Albert Einstein visited Lincoln University. And the campus hasn’t moved, it’s still exactly where it is, in Southern Chester County, Pennsylvania, right off of route one, it’s an hour away from Philly. It’s still there and it’s even better now, because actually they do have an advertising program at that school now. So that’s always good to hear of the school growing and things of that nature.

Maurice Cherry:
I first heard about Lincoln… When did I first hear about Lincoln? I think it was when I was in college. So I went to Morehouse and-

Keni Thacker:
Okay. My best friend went there.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice. The summer before I started, there was like the summer program that I was a part of and our math professor was a math professor from Lincoln, Dr. Shaba. Unfortunately has passed away rest in peace, but that’s where I first heard about Lincoln and he gave us the history of Lincoln. And Dr. Shaba is like one of the most well known black mathematicians in the world. That’s how I first heard about the school and everything.

Maurice Cherry:
As you mentioned, you graduated from Lincoln, you were out there in the world, you were doing this work in tech, you kind of said for ad agencies and stuff like that. And then you started out later at JWT, which is where you spent the bulk of your career. When you look back at that time, what are some of the highlights that you remember from that?

Keni Thacker:
The highlights were-

Maurice Cherry:
Are there highlights? I would imagine so. I’m just.

Keni Thacker:
It’s all a highlight reel. No, some of it’s not. Some of the highlights was being able to executive produce… The first documentary I ever executive produced was for a Black History Month as a part of the diversity platforms that we were creating. But being able to executive produce my first documentary, that was when I was like, “Yeah, this is what I’m going to do.” Needless to say, it was a great experience. That very first one that I executive produced was actually directed by my man, Pete Chapman. He’s moved on and directed a bunch of great stuff for television, for Black-ish, for Grown-ish, for Atypical, Grey’s Anatomy.

Keni Thacker:
He’s just killing it basically right now in the game, but it was a great opportunity to work with him. I won’t say those were his early days, but definitely his day getting into the game and things of that nature. But not only did I executive produce that documentary, but I also made that documentary another four times after that. And then I started directing and producing those documentaries after I couldn’t afford Pete after the first time because he’s too good.

Keni Thacker:
But me getting into the production field and whether it was camera work and directing at the same time, being able to do all of that, then create these programs for young people. I would say two years after starting this kind of work, that’s when the accolades started coming in slowly but surely, but they were definitely coming in and it was all just mind blowing for me at the end of the day. So it’s been like one experience to the other, but I will say, creating Young Commodores, creating 100 Roses From Concrete, creating the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative, I would say, those have been like the steady, just like it never gets old, but also like ain’t no stopping now.

Keni Thacker:
But I also feel like I’m only getting started. Even doing this work for 10 years, to be totally honest with you, Maurice, I feel like I’m only getting started.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking to that, I’m curious, you mentioned all these firsts. You mentioned first for your program, things of that nature, where does that drive come from? Why do you have the ambitions that you have?

Keni Thacker:
I think the ambition comes from my family. One, I’m surrounded by the strongest, smartest women, period. When I think about my wife, when I think about my mom, when I think about my kid, they’re all just way smarter than me. They’re smarter and they’re stronger than me. So by being surrounded… And shout out to all my nieces too, but they’re all so strong and also very focused that it’s like, I have got to pull my weight, dog. To be totally honest with you, I have got to pull my weight.

Keni Thacker:
So when it comes to the things that I want to do, I’m also thinking about the future for my daughter. When I say that I’ve been doing this work for 10 years, she’s only 11 years old, so literally-

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Keni Thacker:
… it was after like a year after her birth that I was like, “You know what?” I just wasn’t feeling like I was being challenged, I wasn’t being fulfilled, and I didn’t even know that I could actually make a difference in this industry. But when she came along, I was like, “If there’s anything I can do to make sure that maybe the job role is just 5% easier for her than the 100% how hard it was for my wife and myself, and Lord knows my mom. She’s been working in industry… She’s still working and she’s about to be 80 years old.

Keni Thacker:
But if there’s any way that I can do to just make it 5% easier for her, then that’s what I’m going to do. And that’s what I have done. Even if you scroll back to some of my older Instagram photos, you’ll see that I brought her on set when she was like three, four years old making spots.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow.

Keni Thacker:
With the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative this summer, when one of the teams was making a commercial for her spot, I brought her with me so she could see what we were doing as like a ragtag kind of production crew and things of that nature. So I constantly try to bring her along for the journey, as much as I possibly can. Whether she’s super interested or not interested, still try to make her a part of it so she can understand and see how it works. But then also see like, “Oh, so these young people are 20, 22 years old,” or whatever the case may be, “and they’re trying to do this, and my dad is actually helping them.” You know what I mean?

Keni Thacker:
Even when I do… Back when we could do things in-person, any award that I would receive, I would bring her up on stage with me so she could be a part of that experience as well. So she’s seen me win award from award to magazine… Now, she’s just numb to it all, so she [crosstalk 00:51:03]. She’s like, “Oh, dad, oh, you were in Business Insider. Oh, okay. Who cares?” But she’s kind of gotten numb to it all and it’s kind of a running joke around my house, because my wife always makes fun of me because “Oh, you think you’re famous?”

Keni Thacker:
And then my kid said, “Dad, you’re like semi famous,” something like that. And that’s the running joke around the house that I’m not famous, I’m kind of semi famous. But needless to say, the accolades, when they do come through, I’m still blown away by any one of them. And I’m super grateful when they do come, because, one, I don’t do it for the accolades in the first place. You know what I mean? I’m doing it here to literally change the culture and doing it for the people that look like me and definitely, for the ones that are coming behind us at the end of the day.

Keni Thacker:
Because when I think about my early days and just how, as I said, I think in the beginning of our talk is how I always in the room, but I didn’t have a seat at the table. I was in the rooms with our CEOs and our top leaders, going around the country, helping them with their technology as they’re meeting with these multi-billion dollar clients and things of that nature. I was there, but I didn’t have any power.

Keni Thacker:
But now, 15 years later in the advertising business, here I am doing a podcast with Maurice and about to be on the Adobe Max stage. And I can say that Adobe with more money than God is one of the partners for my organization that I started myself. You know what I mean? So it’s all just like… I can’t even call it a dream come true because I didn’t even dream this to be totally honest with you, Maurice. I didn’t even dream this.

Keni Thacker:
It was just more like being on the grind, doing what I do, trying to do it the best way I know how, bringing in the right people, because the Lord knows I can’t do it by myself. But that’s all it’s been bruh, to be 100% honest with you. That’s all it’s been, but I didn’t even dream of an Adobe partnership. But now thinking back to the days when I didn’t have a seat at the table and even though I was in the room. But now I can be like, “Yeah, I partner with Adobe, multi-billion dollar company and I did it from my living room, dog.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Mentioning your daughter, does she want to follow in your footsteps? Since she’s kind of been shadowing you, it sounds like for a very long time.

Keni Thacker:
She’s more into the theatrical arts, so she’s a little actress, needless to say, and she’s done multiple productions with her theater camp. She currently attends Harlem School of the Arts, shout out to Harlem School of the Arts, so she’s killing it there right now. But she more in front of the camera, needless to say. But she’s also a great writer in her own right and she writes about things that are important to her, even stuff that in regards to our country and things of that nature.

Keni Thacker:
So she definitely has her own opinion about things, because it’s sad to say, since 2017, she’s had her front row seat to everything that’s been going wrong. And I was telling a friend of mine from the UK, I was like… And this is back in 2017. I was telling him, I was like, “The worst part about what was then about to happen was that our kids will not be able to unsee this.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s very true.

Keni Thacker:
There’s just no going to what was. We as adults would be forever changed, but our kids even more so. And especially when you even think of just as of last year, being like stuck on the screen all day and that’s their form of school. We didn’t have to go through that when we were in school. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Keni Thacker:
But like the resilience, I would say of these young people these days, even all the way down to my daughter’s age, the ones that are handling it well, like yo. I give them all the respect. I’m like, “Y’all are way stronger than us,” because I would’ve probably quit school. I could probably sit street on the street all day. My attention span just wasn’t like that back then. Hell, it’s probably not like that now. But needless to say, the resilience of these young people, and shout out to my guests, the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative fellows, to pull together campaigns all virtually over these last two years.

Keni Thacker:
That alone, I tell them, I was like, “Y’all are special. You don’t understand how special you are that you’re able to pull together campaigns for these nonprofit organizations and most of y’all aren’t even in the same state. Hell, same continent.” Shout out to my nephew Sandip in New Delhi and then one of my other fellows in Singapore. They were joining like 5:00 AM their time our sessions.

Keni Thacker:
You know what I mean? 5:00 AM, 12:00 PM their time, literally oceans and oceans away. But they were joining and they got the most out of the experience, and they were doing their thing. It’s crazy.

Maurice Cherry:
Are you where you wanted to be at the stage in your life? When you think back to like the early days of what you were working on, is this where you saw yourself ending up?

Keni Thacker:
No, I didn’t. I thought I’d constantly be working for like a company all my life. Obviously, I’m not a millennial, so I don’t bounce around every two to three years or whatever the case may be. As you see, I spent a long time at JWT. Was I planning on retiring from JWT? No, that I was never in the cards for me. I always wanted a way out and I always wanted to find just a way to still actively be involved in the industry, but maybe just not there.

Keni Thacker:
And I can’t honestly say, this is where I want to be, because then that’s me saying I’m comfortable where I am. And since I’m constantly on the move, it’s just like, yeah, this is good, but I feel like I could always do better at the end of the day. I’m not a sedentary type of person when it comes to my career and what I want to do, and especially, with like shout out Fast & Furious kind of reference, but like with the nitrous boost that my career got, I would say over the last, going on the last two years, actually, I don’t ever want to just say, “I’m happy where I am.”

Keni Thacker:
There’s one piece of advice I give young people all the time is like, don’t chase the checkered flag because there shouldn’t be an end to what you want to do. You should constantly be evolving and growing all the time.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Keni Thacker:
Five years, hopefully, the Roses is on more solid footing. Not that we’re not right now, but even on more solid footing, more great partners, things of that nature, bringing, making this a reality, getting these right. Bringing this black BIPOC talent into these industries that don’t really have a lot of them. Keni Thacker LLC definitely, working with agencies on a longer basis, but also being able to really ignite sustainable and perpetual change within these organizations. That’s where I’d like to see myself.

Keni Thacker:
If we’re having this conversation in three to five years, that’s where I want to see myself. Just basically more growth at the end of the day, giving real opportunity with talent and heart on both ends. Whether it’s through the agency side, or through the work that I do with the young people, or the professional development that we do through 100 Roses from Concrete, that’s where I want to be like in five years. But even five years from now, I’m still not going to be comfortable where I’m at because I’m going to be like, “I know I need to do more.”

Maurice Cherry:
And honestly, who knows what this world is going to look like in five years with the way things are going right now.

Keni Thacker:
Oh yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It kind of feels like the smart thing to still stick with what you’re working on, so it sounds good.

Keni Thacker:
I hope to be alive.

Maurice Cherry:
Look, floods in one part of the country, fires in another part as we’re recording this, I should mention. But yeah, I totally get what you’re saying.

Keni Thacker:
I hope to be alive. But if I am alive, I’m going to tell you this, Maurice, I’m be fucking… Excuse my language, sorry. I’ma be put my foot in people’s behinds and making sure like these things come to fruition, one way or the other. One way or the other, who’s to say, five years from now, maybe I’m working for one of these places, I don’t know. But if I am, it’s not going to be this soft-shoe dancing around the topic of diversity, it’s going to be like, “No.” It’s going to be Timberland boots.

Keni Thacker:
And we’re going to be like in town stomping, making this stuff happen at the end of the day. Because the days of like the soft-shoe tap dancing around has got us nowhere. It has got us absolutely nowhere. It’s got us absolutely nowhere, but it’s also made a lot of people extremely wealthy.

Maurice Cherry:
This is true.

Keni Thacker:
So it’s a matter of thinking about, okay, obviously, there’s a worry from a certain group of people that, “Oh, well, there’s not enough room at the table.” That’s okay, because you know what? You, me, a bunch of other people, we can go to Home Depot to get some plywood, build some chairs, build extensions to that table and make the table bigger. Because it’s not about taking away from anyone, it’s about just making more room at the end of the day.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work and everything online?

Keni Thacker:
Obviously, kenithacker.com, look pretty easy place to find about work with Keni Thacker LLC. But then also, 100 Roses from Concrete, it’s 100rosesfromconcrete.com. On Twitter, we’re 100RFC. Yeah, 100RFC on Twitter, but 100 Roses from Concrete on Instagram. And me, just same way on Instagram and Twitter, just K-E-N-I-T-H-A-C-K-E-R on both. No secret cool handles or whatever the case may be. That’s the easiest way to find out what we’re doing and what I’m doing, and things coming up, and things of that nature.

Keni Thacker:
We’re working on some new stuff for the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative that will probably launch in January. It’s to have secrets, so I can’t really talk about it right now. I am going to say that, with the G.R.O.W.T.H. Initiative, we have mastered helping young people, so now it’s a matter of thinking about how do we help other people through the umbrella of growth and 100 Roses from Concrete. So that’s going to be something that people are going to need to look for.

Keni Thacker:
Probably in the next couple months, We’re definitely going to start grinding down that idea that I have for the organization to help more people at the end of the day. Because I always tell people, I was like, “The one thing whenever this COVID stuff is done, a couple things that will still be around is going to be racism, ageism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, and all those other isms are going to outlive COVID whenever COVID it’s over.”

Keni Thacker:
So it’s really about not taking our foot off the gas about those things that are important to us, but also those things that are going to make our creativity better, make our pockets better equitably, but also make people feel like they belong and feel like they’re a part and they can be successful within these organizations, where lot of faces don’t look like theirs at the end of the day.

Keni Thacker:
So if there’s anything that I can do to teach people how to show up in these challenging spaces where creativity and commerce often meet and humility falls short, that’s what I’m going to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good, man. Well, Keni Thacker, I want to thank you so much, so, so much for coming on the show. Thank you for really, putting yourself out there and stepping out on your own and being a voice in the advertising, and creative industries, as it relates to pulling together opportunities for really diverse talent. It’s certainly something that throughout the time I’ve done this show, I’ve been trying to beat that drum to let companies know.

Maurice Cherry:
So it’s good to tell off to somebody out there that’s also really putting his foot on the gas and making sure that this happens so the next generation can really come up and have the opportunities that they need to succeed. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Keni Thacker:
As one of my professors, Dr. T, actually at Lincoln used to say, it’s been a privilege and a pleasure.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

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Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX is the annual global creativity conference and it’s going online this year — October 26th through the 28th. This is sure to be a creative experience like no other. Plus, it’s all free. Yep – 100% free!

With over 25 hours of keynotes, luminary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, musical performances and even a few celebrity appearances, it’s going to be one-stop shopping for your inspiration, goals and creative tune-ups.

Did I mention it’s free?

Explore over 300 sessions across 11 tracks, hear from amazing speakers and learn new creative skills…all totally free and online this October.

To register, head to max.adobe.com.

Sponsored by Black in Design 2021 Conference

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On the weekend of October 8-10th, join the Harvard Graduate School of Design virtually for the Black in Design 2021 Conference!

This year’s theme, Black Matter, is a celebration of Black space and creativity from the magical to the mundane. Our speakers, performers, and panelists will bring nuance to the trope of Black excellence and acknowledge the urgent political, spatial, and ecological crises facing Black communities across the diaspora. You don’t want to miss out on this weekend of learning, community, and connection!

Visit them online at blackmatter.tv to learn more and be a part of the event.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.