This Black History Month, I honor and show reverence to Jeanette Lamar, a revolutionary woman who changed the status quo of education for African Americans in one of the largest cities in this country and taught me to always fight for what is right with integrity. My grandmother, Jeanette Lamar, was a dynamic woman who after traveling north from rural Georgia in the great migration went on to become a co-founder of Greater Open Door Missionary Baptist Church on the west side of Chicago. In addition, she was a leading catalyst for change. Many black children, including my father, were not able to attend school for a full day in Chicago in the 1950s due to racially biased policies. She not only marched but helped to organize the parents and civil rights groups to challenge and revoke these policies, ultimately resulting in progress toward educational equity. Jeanette empowered my family to build a legacy of achievement and courage to fight for what is right against overwhelming odds, for which I am forever grateful.
My commitment to pay it forward in honor of my Grandmother, Jeanette Lamar, is represented by my passion for mentorship to African American youth. I have worked with groups in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit to empower youth through education. Supporting the next generation of great thinkers and giving them tools to make the world a better place by helping them embrace their talents helps me keep the sacred promise to always give back, as those before us have given so much.
EVP, Chief Strategy Officer
One of my favorite creative partners of all time, Vann Graves, who now runs Brandcenter, put down his pen after Sept. 11 and enlisted. Holy shit, that’s inspiring. When he came back to advertising, he was hands-down the best manager and mentor in the industry. He told me that when you have 100 soldiers with boots on the ground in a war zone, you learn a thing or two about management.
I’m going to pay it forward by trying to be a better mentor and manager.
I would not be where I am today without the mentorship and guidance of Gil Ashby at CCS. He paved the way for me and I appreciate his struggle that made my career possible.
I would like to pay it forward by seeking out young illustrators and helping them navigate through school and the industry to get to a point where they feel confident enough to go after what they want, like Gil taught me.
This Black History Month, I honor my creative partner, fashion guru, life coach and friend, Jay Norman. I am so lucky to spend my days solving challenges with passion and creatively with him.
I come into work inspired every day because of Jay, and want to pay it forward by helping others feel inspired.
Manager, User Experience
I am forever thankful to my good friend and mentor Jason Reed, who was the former head diversity officer at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio. He is responsible for helping hundreds of kids reach their true potential, and was the person who first believed in me and gave me my first job out of college. He spent countless hours building and developing a program from scratch to help underprivileged kids from primarily inner-city neighborhoods develop their education and skills through summer and weekend programs to help them gain access to private high schools and eventually elite colleges. He showed me that even a couple hours on a Saturday or over the summer can forever change someone’s life, and that all some kids need is a slight nudge in the right direction, mentorship, the right skills, and someone to tell them that anything is possible.
Working under Jason, I spent 5 years using my skills as a designer and web developer to teach and mentor students to help them gain access to digital skills they would not have otherwise been exposed to in the traditional school environment. He continues to challenge me to use what I know to help people and is a constant reminder that we need to reach out to our communities and provide resources for those who may otherwise go unnoticed.
SVP, Brand Strategist
My mother. The most genuine, generous, selfless and creative person I've known. To lose her, so young, I lost a piece of myself. So, in all ways, I honor her and her commitment to education and the betterment of others. She poured into me and anyone that needed love. I am who I am because of having her and losing her.
I am paying it forward through patience and empathy, generosity, as well as teaching and investing in others. I also established an honorary scholarship in her name at her Alma mater, Eastern Michigan Univ, to help others pursing a degree in special education.
EVP, Brand Leadership
Willie Horton, Detroit Tigers. Willie was my childhood idol and a powerful force for peace during a very difficult time in Detroit's history. He put himself at the center of the '67 uprising working to bring calm to the city. To this day he remains an incredible force of positivity and unity in the city of Detroit.
Mentoring the students of Detroit Public Schools, specifically by working with L!feLeaders, a unique youth led growth and development program
Lenora King, or Coach Lee, as she's most frequently called, was born and raised in Detroit and grew up playing tennis at Palmer Park. When the city was facing bankruptcy and threatening to close the Park, Coach Lee organized the "People of Palmer Park" and successfully lobbied the city to keep the park open. Today, she leads the Palmer Park Tennis academy, which provides opportunities for hundreds of underprivileged kids to learn tennis and play competitive tournaments. Because the courts were so bad, she successfully gained a grant from the Wilson Foundation and private donors to rebuild the courts. Today, Palmer Park has an amazing tennis facility because of her passion and commitment. Her spirit and bias for action to make a difference in the community and spread her love of tennis has inspired me and my family to do the same.
Arthur Ashe's "Days of Grace" book also had a big impact on me and I've encouraged my kids to read the book. He lead an amazing life and broke all kinds of barriers.
The DeMuth Family helps to underwrite the Palmer Park Tennis Academy and our boys (ages 14 and 9) regularly go to Palmer Park in the Summer and participate with the kids. Additionally, I am the visionary and a lead donor building a new, state-of-the-art tennis facility at Cranbrook and hoping to bring an ATP Tour event there that will benefit and raise money for the Palmer Park Tennis Academy.
Kanye West. Yes, he's eccentric. Yes, he's controversial. But, back in 2016, he went through a severe mental breakdown and ended up in the hospital for an extended period. Funny enough, earlier in 2016 I went through something very similar. I was lost, self-medicating my anxiety and depression, and never truly facing my demons. Things went south one night. I ended up in the ER and was forced to take a medical leave of absence from work. The ensuing days were painful, physically and emotionally. To get myself right, I decided to leave my job, move to Michigan, and entered therapy. The whole experience was hard on me and even harder on my family. It's still hard but it was also a wake-up call.
Like I said, Kanye went through something similar and around the same time. Two years later, in 2018, he released two albums. ye and Kids See Ghosts. The new music confronted his demons, past transgressions, and forged a new path for him. He was open and honest about his mental health on the tracks and in interviews. For me, seeing and hearing this idol of mine open up like this was transformative. The music helped me reflect. I was able to look at myself in the mirror and realize that my mental health issues don't define me. Kanye's vulnerability and honesty expressed in these two albums helped me forge a path forward for myself.
First off, I pay it forward by being an outspoken advocate for mental health. I also volunteer with the Palmer Park Tennis Academy in Detroit. The program brings in African American children from around the city, tutors them and teaches them tennis. I haven't been able to help as much as I'd like but, there I'm able to use a passion of mine to help build these children up into good kids and tennis players.
SVP, Director of Business Affairs
This Black History Month and, quite frankly, every month I honor Warren Reasor. For countless years, Warren has not only made an indelible mark on this agency but has shown me that you can come to work everyday and be kind to people. I've NEVER seen Warren have a bad day. My way of paying it forward - As Warren has shown, with his "makin it happen" attitude - I strive to be kinder and more present with people, regardless of the obstacles in my day.
Senior Account Executive
Kevin Morris. He has been more than just a friend - but a true brother for the past 8 years. Kevin has been someone I can celebrate my best with and he can pick me up during my worst. Even though life has taken us apart geographically our friendship continues to be truly beneficial to both of our growth as we talk every few days for the past 5 years. Also, Kevin has achieved greatness, personally and professionally (my friend is a Doctor!) regardless of situation.
I am going to pay it forward by being the best version of myself for others while I continue to be there for Kevin as he has for me.
Early in my career, I worked on GMC at McCann. They actually created a small agency just to serve that business. And the agency hired the head of marketing from the Stroh brewery to lead the account, a brilliant man named Michael Porter.
Now, in the late 90’s, limited technology meant presentations were simple. But the verbal setups were not. After seeing me present to a client, Michael took me under his wing and told me, “say something simple but memorable.” In classic advertising form, I took Michaels’s line and have used it many times. I was also impacted by Michael’s generosity, learning it is all of our jobs to help the next generation.
I have been personally inspired and enriched by many African Americans throughout my life, but I will tell about one of the first ones.
When I was little our family lived in a farmhouse in rural Illinois. There was an African American man on my transistor radio announcing how good he was and how no one was better than he, and that his success was a foregone conclusion. The tenor of the news people was that he may be talented, but he was a braggart and a laughable bigmouth. There was some amount of tension about how this would play out. No one had ever heard an African American talk and behave like that before.
Indeed, this man was pretty funny. I was a very shy little girl, full of fear and self-doubt, and I LOVED hearing what he had to say! I reveled in his unapologetic confidence and celebration of himself. I cheered him on within myself, like a personal treasure, and was sure he would achieve!
I learned humility from my family. But I learned celebration of excellence and one’s own gifts from Cassius Clay.
Today I pay it forward by teaching and support- coaching, emphasizing positivity and self-recognition for all one overcomes and accomplishes—both the big things and the everyday smaller things that can mean so much--the personal treasures.
Senior Brand Strategist
A former coworker, Apryl Gordy, worked tirelessly to lead my office in an education program to help the agency learn about what it's like to be black in majority white spaces. It's something I'll never truly understand, but I think about those discussions every day and it has reframed how I move through the world and how I interact with others.
I push for diversity in my teams, and in the in the work we show. I want to push everyone around me to be more mindful of the experiences and struggles of others, and use our privilege to hold the door open for others.
This Black History month, I honor my first boss, mentor, and friend in the industry, Tierra Filhiol. I am able to believe in myself because she first believed in me. Tierra gave me a rock-solid foundation for my career. She left an indelible impression on me because of her immense emotional intelligence, sheer talent, and her strength of will as she overcame many obstacles she faced as a young single mother and a black woman in the world—and especially in this industry. She taught me to always hold fast to my inherit value and to seek out ways to educate myself rather than wait to be educated. She inspired me to hone my voice as a woman and member of the LGBTQ community and to see how my identity makes me valuable, not a hinderance.
I promise to pay it forward by following in Tierra’s footsteps and lifting up those who come after me and believing in those who have been told their voices are not as worthy, whether because of their race, gender, sexual identity or orientation or otherwise.
Assistant Account Executive
This Black History Month, I choose to honor two incredibly talented individuals who have guided and supported me tremendously in the beginning of my career journey, Alima Trapp and Andrew Lamar. Alima and Andrew, two extremely intelligent strategists, have had my best interest at heart since I started my career at Doner. As a young woman of color, I cannot stress the importance of having mentors who have shared the same obstacles as me in an industry that lacks diversity and representation of the African American community and culture. Although not always obvious, and sometimes blatantly clear and overlooked, there are racial biases that we African Americans in Advertising face each and every day. To have Andrew, a Senior Multicultural Strategist, and Alima, a SVP of strategy, help me through this journey has been both beneficial towards my career and comforting to say the least.
I promise to pay it forward through the mentorship of our African American youth. As a committee member of The Rhonda Walker Foundation’s Give and Get Fit, I have been empowering inner city teen girls for the past 9 years. Give and Get Fit started at Somerset Mall in 2010 with 78 participants and has grown to 500 participants and is now at the Detroit Riverwalk. I encourage those who can, to participate in this year’s Give and Get Fit on Sunday, July 26, 2020. The event includes a 5k walk/run, 10k run, boxing, yoga, and Pilates classes. All proceeds benefit the program’s five-year Girls into Women career, personal development, education and mentoring program for inner city teen girls.
Senior Social Strategist
This Black History Month I want to honor my boss at my first job in Detroit, Bree Kellum. Since I was new to the city I didn't know anyone, and she was so welcoming to me, both personally and professionally. This had a huge impact on me because it was my first time living and working so far outside my comfort zone, and it really helped to make me feel more at home in a new city.
I have been trying to and will continue to pay it forward by being welcoming to others that are new to the city, new to Doner, or new anywhere to help them feel happy, comfortable, and a sense of belonging however I can.
J Dilla. Jay Dee. James Dewitt Yancy. The best thing to come out of the Detroit music scene since Motown. (Sorry, techno.) The maestro of Detroit hip hop. He was a big part of the sound of the 90s (Think Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Pharcyde, Madlib and his group Slum Village), a sound that's inspired and influenced a lot of the music we hear today. And it definitely influenced me.
I hope I'm doing my part by spreading the gospel of Hip Hop. (Some rap, too. Yes, there's a difference. No, I can't really articulate it.) By supporting the art form - buying music, merchandise, art, concert tickets, and helping expose others to it - I hope I'm helping artists, musicians and poets to make more good stuff to put into the world. And I think that's a good thing.
Head of Design
My first two years of public school were segregated. Against a backdrop of racial angst in the Mississippi Delta, the schools in my town of Greenwood were integrated. My upbringing looked very much like the movie, “The Help.” In fact, the movie was filmed in Greenwood.
In the Spring of 1968, my 28yo father was appointed principal of Kathleen Bankston Elementary School which educated about 800 only white children in grades 1-8. By the Spring of 1969, the Federal government mandated the integration of Mississippi’s schools. My father was one a few that was tasked with making that happen. Throughout that Spring and Summer, we woke up with crosses smoldering in our front yard. The divisiveness in our small town was palpable even by a seven year old.
As I started third grade in the Fall, at the front of two classrooms were two ladies who were nowhere near the school the previous Spring. Mrs. Weddington and Mrs. Harris. These poised ladies who had daringly come to a part of our town. At first, for us, we saw authority in a different hue. But, what we observed over that year was a passion to teach, a command of a very difficult social situation and a warmth for each one of us. There was collegiality with their peers. There was generosity. They changed my life.
I know I’m who I am because of privilege predetermined to whom I was born. That’s not the case in America for those black and brown. We need to level the playing field. I’m paying it forward by partnering with OfColor, a FinTech startup founded by Yemi Rose to eradicate the racial wealth gap.
Here’s some stats: 51 million Americans are underbanked and fritter away $196billion in fees or lost wealth … about 37 million of those are African American. Redlining persists. 35% fewer financial institutions exist in non-white communities. AfAm entrepreneurs are denied bank loans at a rate of 3X their white counterparts … and when they do get investment it’s half of their white counterparts at 1.2% higher rates. I could go on. It’s depressing. And, it gets worse knowing that America is becoming majority minority in about a decade.
I will ensure this brand is built for the future. I will use every opportunity to create mindshare around this fundamental problem in America. And My active years in advertising will be spent connecting other brands to OfColor. Building a company like this will take courage. I have Mrs. Weddington and Mrs. Harris to show me the way.
Senior Brand Strategist
It was the very first day I dropped my (then) baby at daycare. I was scared, anxious, and my heart was aching in a way that I couldn't explain before. That day, I met Nautica Davis. This Black History Month I honor her and her love and dedication to not only all the babies she nurtured, but to all the mothers she embraced. She mended many hearts and helped raise little ones with love and respect. I am grateful for her kindness, her awareness, and for her beautiful old soul that made me feel braver and confident in knowing that everything was going to be okay.
I pay it forward by intentionally listening to everyone around me. She taught me to be sensitive to others and lead with empathy, and that is how I want to navigate life, with an open heart and helping others find their voice and strength.
SVP Integrated Strategy
My high school football teammate (let's call him JB) that stood up to a casually prejudice coach of ours. Our school was suburban, affluent, and very white. JB had a STYLE that looked out of place. Coach used coded language to suggest JB should tone down his "Chicago" clothes, hats & shoes. One day coach said "At least pull up your damn pants." JB said, "Why don't you focus on coaching and stop talking about my clothes? Don't act like you understand my style. I don't see you giving fashion advice to anybody else on this team." Standing up to authority always earns you respect in high school, but I was aware how much he was RISKING by taking it there. Happy ending - Coach swallowed his tongue and JB never changed.
I will pay it forward by calling out coded racism whenever I hear it, or see it on social media.
Artist, Model, Creator
The artist Carol Morisseau. My high school art teacher. She believed in me and was a living example of the type of person I wanted to be, a working artist with a family. Constantly mentoring and available for questions still to this day.
I have been teaching and mentoring young artists during the summer for the last 3 years. And at any chance, I share what I've learned with my fellow artist and creative community and always make myself available as a creative resource to those who come after me.