culture

We Are: A Look at Black History Month Through The Programming of W+K Noir

+NYCFebruary 28th 2020

Recognition of Black History Month within some companies, including W+K, has undergone a noticeable shift in the past few years. No longer is it just an e-mail from senior leadership (to be honest, some were lucky to get even that); but now sometimes a full set of programming spanning the entire month that touches upon many of the complex intersections defining what it means to be Black in this country.

As we know, Black representation within advertising is still not where it needs to be, hovering right around 5% of all industry workers, but one thing that has started to change is the joining together of the Black community into affinity groups. Wieden+Kennedy has two Black affinity groups in the US—We+Black in Portland, and Noir in NYC. For each of these groups, Black History Month provides the chance to truly lean into celebrations of Blackness, and it shows in the programming they’ve created.

The newer affinity group, W+K Noir, had an especially ambitious month of programming planned for 2020, spearheaded by two of W+K’s freshest faces, Autumn Carson and Faith Daniels. Both joined the residency program in the summer of 2019. After experiencing the impressive programming put on by fellow affinity groups for Asian Pacific Heritage Month and then Hispanic Heritage Month, they knew they wanted to be a part of organizing for Black History Month when the time came.

“We were talking about Black History Month,” said Faith, “but didn’t know if we would still be here [after our residency], but we manifested it!”

Indeed, the two women were hired permanently in October 2019—Faith as a junior brand strategist and Autumn as an assistant account executive—and planning for Black History Month was underway almost immediately. As Faith explained, “We started brainstorming ideas and brought it up to the W+K Noir leads who let us run with it. We created a committee to help. When me and Autumn said we wanted to own Black History Month, they let us. They had never had a month with this amount of events before.”

For the month, Faith, Autumn, and other W+K Noir members planned to hold at least one event per week. They kicked off with an all-agency happy hour featuring wine and spirits from Black-owned vineyards and distilleries, a poppin’ playlist, and appropriately themed snacks like chocolate-covered strawberries and biscotti.

Following this up was the Black is Business Market that saw 21 Black vendors setting up shop in WKNY’s common space. The market was first opened to W+K employees, then later to the public to shop. The environment? Good vibes all around, with an extra heaping of support for the local businesses—in no small part due to Faith and Autumn’s impeccable planning.

As Autumn explained, “We had premade forms to prepare for what they would need as a vendor, power outlets, etc. We had vendors complete a survey at the end of the market on how we could improve, because a lot of times when people host these business markets, vendors don’t sell anything depending on several factors, so that was one of our biggest things: making sure these vendors got exposure and made money! And they did. And I think they all enjoyed themselves.”

Week three featured an art exhibit curated by Brooklyn-based BLK MKT Vintage, a shop whose collection “mirrors multifarious black cultural expression [and] is rooted in our love for black people, black culture and our own lived experiences.” There was also a panel called “The Kiki: An Exploration of Blackness in Material Culture,” featuring TIME’S UP Advertising executive director Christena Pyle, BLK MKT Vintage co-founder Kiyanna Stewart, and photographer Kenny St. George, who also included the Black employees of WKNY in his new portrait series, “Our Seat.”

Their programming wrapped the last week of Black History Month with another all-agency party called “We Are Family” to recognize the essential nature of family reunions within Black culture.

“If we’re thinking historically since the Great Migration, I think every Black person in America knows what a family reunion is and knows the importance of it,” says Autumn, “but also, not everyone has family, right? So a family reunion is your friends are family, your coworkers can be family, and that’s the overall theme of our month. It’s called “We Are,” and we wanted to end on “We Are Family” to further prove how Blackness is not this homogenous thing, it is multifaceted. It is layered. Family comes in all shapes and sizes, and Wieden itself is a family.”

"The energy and feeling of community at each of the events were amazing," explains W+K Noir member and senior strategist at W+K, Mahu Attenoukon. "Our goal was to demonstrate as many facets of our culture as we could so even if you were only able to attend one event, you learned something new or got to connect with someone new."

It’s obviously an enormous undertaking to put on programming of this magnitude. Being part of an affinity group within an organization comes with heaps of self-imposed responsibility, ownership, extra work, and . . . no extra pay. So why would anyone do it? For Autumn, there was never a question she would join Noir.

“I’ve always been involved as far as my Blackness. For example, in undergrad, I was part of Black student government, I was a part of the National Association of Black Journalists, so I’ve always tried to find ways to elevate my community. For me, coming to Wieden, it was instinctive. We have that platform to really celebrate Blackness and highlight the people within these walls that do the work because there aren’t a lot of Black people that work in advertising in general, so just to be a part of that 5% and to have the opportunity to use the resources at Wieden to put on other people in the community. It is a lot of work, but it’s worth it. It’s work that we enjoy.”

Faith agrees and maintains it ultimately helped them make their mark as junior employees in the workplace.

“It’s a win-win,” Faith said. “We’re winning by celebrating our Blackness, but on the other end, we’re showing our peers we have ideas, we know how to execute, and we make it fun. We’re getting respect and personal relationships, which is invaluable. As a junior person to work with leadership, and get that recognition; we are rising stars!”

She continued, “I think that being a Black woman in advertising period holds a lot of weight and being an environment like W+K adds another layer of weight, so it’s really important to me to let people know in this office, and without, that we are working on our diversity. We are truly celebrating the cultures and the people that work here. That was one reason I really wanted to do this. To put it simply, I wanted to show off. Look how great W+K is and how great the Black people are. It has a big impact on my morale coming to work.”

Even with Black History Month coming to an end, affinity groups like Noir have laid the groundwork to keep recognition of Black employees and the surrounding community front and center all year long. This doesn’t just mean bringing back events like the Black Is Business Market for the holidays, although that is something they plan to do, but also increasing consciousness overall for those they work with and the community they work within.

Faith and Autumn

Faith Daniels and Autumn Carson

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