Jd Michaels is a Kansas City native, graduate of Yale University, resident of Brooklyn, New York, and proud Ravenclaw.
26 years of advertising work earned Lions, Pencils, and gold in many shapes (including three ADCOLOR awards and the AAF MOSAIC award); his combined positions as EVP Director of Creative Engineering and EVP Co-Director of Diversity for BBDO New York offered the opportunity to combine creativity with social dignity, creating experiences which brought to life the power of communication and open inclusion.
And now, Jd serves as the distinguished-grey half of Michaels.Adams., a worldwide creative production house, where he and Ms. Casey Adams head an international collective of professionals to realize social initiatives focused in identity, community, and education.
Black Creative Matters. Five Points of Order.
One: As an African American artist, raised in the American Midwest (Kansas City), graduate of an Ivy League institution, and lucky enough to work for some of the most powerful advertising agencies on the planet, I would like to use this space to formally agree with the statement that “black creative matters”. I have served as a key creative engineer on internationally award winning projects, I’ve worked with young people of every color to train and inspire them to continue to follow their creative drive, and I’ve served with industry icons on teams of cultural leadership. I’d like to think that my 25 year career served a purpose, moved a needle forward, created moments of quality and integrity in both a general sense and, admittedly, a more self-serving one, as it would bring me great comfort to think, on any level, that “I Matter”.
Two: If I, in an alternate universe, was for some reason NOT an African American artist, how much of the first paragraph would I have thought to include? The “Midwest” is a corn-fed wholesome image displaying an inherent rural identity which may better mellow one’s mass communication efforts once embedded in Big City Advertising, yet the additional fact that I am a Black Man adds a soupçon of survival to this image, as magnified by this nation’s recent and very public unpleasantness. A similar edge is added to the Yale degree, as those attending represent a minority of students in America, and Blacks serve as a much further minority of that. I might have used the word “producer” instead of more granularly explaining my role in successes where others may seek to claim ownership (if not practical responsibility), and I would certainly have not pointed out that I worked with young people of “every color” if I was not myself a minority. The first paragraph is indeed a product of a “black creative”, as the tone of its content is very much focused through the realities and circumstances of my being African American. As much as I have always wanted to be seen as creative first, when creating, being Black does matter.
Three: At this point I believe it only fair to bring up Doctor Who. If you have read this far, I thank you, and offer the following fact as a Prosecco between courses. I was not allowed as a boy to safety-pin a towel around my neck and pretend to be a super-hero for many reasons, the primary one being that my mother feared accidental suffocation - just after that was the fact that we did not have the lifestyle which afforded us “play towels”. I did, however, possess a very long scarf given to me by my grand aunt, who found it at a Salvation Army store (in July) and thought that I would enjoy “playing with it” (#eccentricaunts). As luck would have it, that exact summer I discovered Doctor Who, portrayed at that time by Tom Baker, and decided immediately that this was My Hero. The show was on the educational television station (which reassured my mother, a public school teacher of gifted students) and everyone onscreen spoke in British accents, raising the perceived value of all dialogue well beyond that of any “Saturday morning cartoon”. Now, at 54, I sport a Tardis tattoo the size of a Penguin Classic (along with my more subtle Ravenclaw offering) and have passed my love of the show to my 9 year old daughter, who asked me where all the Black people were in “my day” in “all of time and space”. I had to admit to her that I did not know, but always assumed we would run into a character exhibiting a Pantone greater than 3000 eventually, it was just math, and it had never really mattered to me as a child.
Four: I tell you that in order to more easily tell you this; I have never had the pleasure of meeting another 54 year old midwestern African American Doctor Who / Python fan… it seems odd to reduce all that complexity to the one word “Black”. “Black” is far too general to be used in its traditional manner when describing human beings; whose personal experience may be quite incongruous from others in their own age group or geographic origin. However, “Black” is VERY useful when employed as a label indicating a uniform inequity visited upon individuals not able to hide a specific social distinction which both lowers their status and raises their odds. One knows that one is definitely BLACK once they have been treated “as a black person”, and the fact that many of you have read to this part of the sentence means that your brain did not skid to an immediate halt at the phrase “treated ‘as a black person’” because you had a general understanding of what I meant by that - and when a clear metaphor for Aggressive Unfairness contains the word that most people use to define What You Look Like, well… that matters. We are, every one of us, unique, but in certain places in America a group of us, no matter how divergent, will be treated exactly the same, before we can speak, because we are black, which may be why your Colleague of Color takes that one extra breath before each client presentation.
Five: I am a Black Creative. I have never been any other type of creative, I can never BE any other type of creative; yet I acknowledge that this distinction holds an ability to authentically tell stories which others cannot tell, including a nearly subterranean dread when considering any temporal trip backward. I greatly respect this opportunity to reach beyond all surface definition, beyond race itself, and perform the specific science of emotional connection that art represents, for when stories are told of those who, against the very Laws of Their Land, survived long enough to engineer justice, success, wealth, influence, and innovation which in turn benefited That Same Land, the specifics of their heroic nature emotionally connect to the similarities of spirit within the observer. Creative work that is ABOUT Black People, or indeed about ANY people exhibiting honor among anger, dignity within abuse, or focus beyond oppression can directly connect those who may see no similarity on their out-sides by magnifying key harmonies within. To best tell those stories you need people who have lived that life. And in this fashion I understand how much Black Creativity Matters; as the inescapable aspects of my own identity have required courage, keen navigation, and habitual perseverance, my experiences mirror positive aspects within every human being on this planet, no matter their color. I'd like to consider my creativity a beacon of human recognition beyond what we each look like, to the best of who we are.
And I’d also like a TARDIS.