I’ve been in the advertising industry for about 20 years. And quite often, I’m a bit of an anomaly. I’m black. I’m female. And I’m Christian. Once you get that granular in the advertising world, there are very few of us around. It’s something advertising as a whole has tried to address, but it becomes very clear to those within and without my field that many in upper management and executive-level positions don’t effectively navigate diversity and the issues that permeate many agencies. So then you end up seeing a tone-deaf ad or ad people end up hearing through the grapevine or through (gasp) Adweek.com’s agencyspy page about some massive faux pas. For those not in the know, AgencySpy is like the TMZ of the ad world, fueled by anonymous tippers about the latest tea (aka gossip).
In my Christian walk, I’ve learned that God often puts His people in unusual and extraordinary situations. So why not put a black Christian woman into the microcosm of America called the world of advertising? And most often it’s because of His favor and His divine direction that I experience what I do. So against this backdrop, I’ve been through a couple of growing pains during my career. There have been times when I did not feel a part of a team and despite my earnestness to dig in and learn, it did not change the environment.
My otherness played a part in one particular position in a very pointed way one morning: The woman I worked with every day got on the elevator and acted like I did not exist. It didn’t matter that we sat in the same small work area and worked on the same account constantly. It was a conscious dismissal. I’d never quite experienced this type of behavior in such a continuous way. I consider myself pretty easy to get along with and open to working alongside all types of people, but it seemed my presence was a continuous roadblock to my coworkers. And just in case I thought I was going crazy, there was my cubemate that noticed the difference in treatment as well. I’ll call him Matt. Matt happened to work in a different department from me, but he sat next to me. He casually made the observation one day, and maybe he paid more attention to work dynamics because he was a person of color too. Matt was Bengali-American and Muslim. We used to have great talks, but I never brought up the issues I had at work because of our open space work environment.
Though the climate was pretty merciless, I couldn’t expect to receive mercy if those I worked with didn’t know the Merciful One. I couldn’t let that keep me from being who God created me to be and change my testimony. My faith that the Lord was doing something in me and my hope that this test was not in vain spurred me on. This season ended up being one of the most challenging times in my life. Despite giving much effort, I was floundering and about 8 months into this situation, I wanted out. BAD and IMMEDIATELY. I couldn’t quit with little savings in the bank, so my only recourse was to look for a new job. And despite my striving to exit this painful moment, I would not receive a release from the Lord for another two years. I was perplexed, but I knew I had to Trust Him. As a Christian, I am reminded that so much of the experience is a teacher and about understanding the heart of God. Some seasons are ordained because there’s no other way we can learn and grow. God sent me so many songs to minister to my heart during that time:
“Overcomer” by Mandisa (https://bit.ly/1q0SPTX),
“Sovereign Over Us” by Michael W. Smith (https://bit.l(y/1mxJfWI),
“Need You Now” by Plumb (https://bit.ly/2eYsZll)
“Glorious Unfolding” by Steven Curtis Chapman (https://bit.ly/1phnq1j)
“Fix My Eyes” by For King & Country (https://bit.ly/1E204Qo)
I can’t say I was perfect through the process and my faith was always strong, but I knew that God is good and He can be trusted. So when He did bring me out of that season, He blessed me tremendously. I lived for myself the scripture that says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)
My next employer flew me to Brooklyn for onboarding my first week of work and to meet members of my team. I had a better position, more pay and a great boss. My supervisor, whom I’ll call Erica, was an advocate, a confidante and friend. She is a feminist and social justice warrior. Erica consciously works on understanding the plight of marginalized communities and is an active ally. She also can knit a beautiful cap and whip up a tasty vegan meal. 😉 My boss actually told me that one of the reasons she hired me was because of the experience I gained from the very position I endured. Through this process, I learned that sometimes being peculiar can be painful, but that He still has my back no matter what it feels like. And though some people can see my very presence as an outlier, an oddity, He can use it as a pathway for a blessing.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light;” 1 Peter 2:9
For further reading on how the Lord can turn an impossible situation into an incredible opportunity, read about the story of Joseph (my favorite from the Old Testament): Genesis 37, 39-50