People around the world often say New Orleans exists in its own space and time, immersed in a magical bubble. It exists in the deep South, yet bucks so many traditions against what it means to be southern. It’s nearly 300 years old, yet manages a unique sense of contemporary progression and modernization. Look no further than the iconic brow of Anthony Davis looming over the I-10 corridor, extolling a message of equality, related to the recent NBA All-Star initiative. Yes, this place has the magic.
Folks may even use the more clichéd term and label the beautiful Crescent City a “melting pot.” Great, label it to your heart’s content, but understand the power of the words being used. Realize it’s important to fight against becoming desensitized to potential overuse and thereby minimizing this terminology. Instead, acknowledge the etymology behind it and let that inform and empower us all.
If the commonly understood definition of melting pot is, “a vessel in which materials are mixed,” or, more sociologically, “a place where different peoples, styles, theories, etc., are mixed together,” then what exactly does that mean to the rich history and storied legacy of a place as unique as NOLA? What does it say about the present social climate? What could it dictate for our future? What influence will this bear on our workforce?
By profession, I am a creative. More specifically, I am a public relations manager. My elevator-pitch mantra has always been, “I am in the business of selling ideas and telling stories based on relationships.” I would also like to think, as a young professional person of color, a descendant of the American Dream (my parents were raised and ascended from the literal ashes of the Jim Crow era to become successful business people in their own right), and a product of the melting pot ideology, I bring a special perspective and informed sense of creativity to my industry. My lens is hued differently from so many of my counterparts because it had to be, and there exists an entire subset of young professionals who feel the same awareness and awakening.
I believe the creative industry is a forbearer of the new melting pot ideal. By the very nature of what we do—telling those relationship-based stories and selling those most-meaningful ideas—there is an implicit level of social responsibility we are tasked with as an industry, as a community, as a force of modern thought in society. It is multilayered and comes in various shades, pun intended. And each of those shades deserves a seat at the [boardroom or conference room or art-drafting] table.
In a world where we see reflections of the melting pot through people like Dev Patel, Senator Kamala Harris, Don Lemon, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and the triumph of stories being told through vessels such as Moonlight and Hidden Figures, there is hope that the table is broadening and “we” now have the opportunity to pull up that seat, then given the chance to have our ideas heard. Clearly, they are successful.
It’s not only hoped for, but also expected, that an industry with this much access to creativity shall become one of inclusion. Young professionals should be heartened and encouraged by the evolution and the advancement of the local industry, but never rest on their laurels. When we use the phrase “a seat at the table,” we are espousing a call to action and equality, which stems from a richly accomplished, hard-fought and sometimes troubled past.
It’s never lost on a person of color, or someone who looks like me, to come into the room and be an “Only One.” For those who may be unfamiliar, an Only One is typically that first or singular person of color someone from the majority has ever had the chance to engage with, cohabitate with, learn from or get to know up close. Now, there’s a term worth repeating and redefining. I’ve taken up that mantle throughout most of my formative, adolescent and now adult professional life. I welcome the representation and the prowess that I carry with me into the room. Nowadays, though, I am encouraged to be one in a handful. But of course, there’s more work to be done. Victories are hard-fought but come in small ways that lead to larger progresses. Keep challenging, keep pushing, keep stepping up to the table and take that seat.
Elliot Hutchinson is a Public Relations Manager at Zehnder Communications. Check out his NOEW session on March 23, 12pm on our Camp St. Stage.