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.

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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

Brevity & Wit

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.

Timothy Bardlavens has accomplished a lot since he started designing professionally five years ago. His design journey has taken him from coast to coast, and now he’s at Microsoft helping lead product innovation and UX while also heading up the culture team to foster greater inclusion throughout the company. And he is just getting started!

We talked about how Microsoft has changed over the years, and he shared how he started with humble beginnings in South Carolina and worked his way up to one of the largest tech companies in the world. We also discussed the role of design organizations for designers of color, and we talked about Timothy’s Medium article on leaving AIGA. Timothy’s big goal is to impact the culture, and at the rate he’s going, he’s well on his way to making that happen!


Did you like this episode? Get special behind-the-scenes access for just $5/month!

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