Why it's time to flip the narrative in conversations about race

The Brooklyn Brothers: Saffron Renzullo is the first Night School graduate
The Brooklyn Brothers: Saffron Renzullo is the first Night School graduate

Saffron Renzullo on how finding her voice through The Brooklyn Brothers Night School led her to set up the Dear White Parents movement and discover what being a creative means to her

I didn’t know what a "creative" was a year and a half ago.

To be honest, before I joined Night School, I didn’t know what "adland" was. And If I’m being completely real, I’m still connecting the dots. Even when people ask me now, “What’s a creative?”, I don’t know where to begin. I mean they’re right, what does it really mean? And why do you sound like such a dick when you tell people you are one...

Night School is a mentorship programme set up by The Brooklyn Brothers and Yellow to help young people from minority ethnic backgrounds into the creative industry. This is where I found my creative voice. In January 2020, I was lucky enough to land fresh off the Night School bus and into The Brooklyn Brothers, where I was given the opportunity to join the incredible creative team. Then came Covid. Out of Soho and into the corner of my bedroom I went. Then, a spike in another pandemic that has lasted generations before our time: racism.

After the murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020, the world woke up to a reality that black people have been living for centuries. In this moment of pain for me and many others, George Bryant, my boss, called me, acknowledging my hurt and exhaustion. We spoke about everything. The unexplainable suffering, along with the mammoth force of hope in protest.

He then spoke to Margenett Moore-Roberts, chief inclusion and diversity officer at IPG DXTRA. She asked why black people have had to carry the heavy burden of having a conversation about racism with their children, while most white parents avoid having it with theirs. George called me back to share her thoughts. Through passion, fear and hunger for change, I began to write. I didn’t even think I could write back then but boiiiii, I have never written so much as I have since that day. Here I learned how to conceptualise, and the idea for our documentary was born. It was about time we showed real white families taking responsibility and having crucial, uncomfortable conversations with their families about racism. Just like black people have always had to. Although, for them, their lives depend on it.

But this was only the beginning. We knew that this needed to have a long-term ambition and not just be a one-off conversation. Cali Oliver (a creative director), a helluva strong team and I embarked on a journey to create a movement called Dear White Parents. We wanted to encourage white parents into a lifetime of commitment to raise anti-racist kids by equipping them with discussion guides, workshops and resources at DearWhiteParents.guide.

Early on in the process, we met the powerhouse Dr Ronda Taylor Bullock, an anti-racist educator who helped us ground the treatment of our film in the black experience and academic expertise. We then discovered Kevin Wilson Jr, a black Oscar-nominated director passionate about disrupting systemic racism, who jumped at the idea of creating the film.

From then on, our DWP family didn’t stop growing. This is when I was introduced to the meaning of true collaboration.

From offline to post, our editors, sound engineers, producers, you name them, all had a seat at the table. We all brought our lived experiences to the project: as parents, as children and as people from different races. The hardest part, and the truth behind why it took so long to create, was forming the arc of our film. We had to make sure we respected the black community with a conversation they know so heartbreakingly well, while introducing and inspiring the white community to start theirs. I witnessed how important it was to have a team full of diverse voices to build something with such integrity.

Fifteen months later, we proudly launched Dear White Parents. And now it’s out there, ready to be used. Ready for change. Ready to ignite an entry point into a lifetime of commitment for white families across the globe to raise an anti-racist generation.

But would it have happened if Night School didn’t exist?

Night School gave me the opportunity to become a creative. Yaaaas, a "creative"! That name I never knew. That name a lot of people roll their eyes at. That name which is a catalyst for change. The truth is, being a creative is hard work. It’s working on instinct, indulging in experience, passion and patience. But it’s a job that can disrupt cycles.

I never saw myself in adland because it wasn’t a part of my world. I didn’t see people that looked like me there. But now look. Look at what someone can create when they are shown what’s inside. Look at what happens when someone is given an opportunity. I learned how to write, transform my thoughts into a narrative and use my creative voice to represent and fight for my people through comms (another jarring ad word). I mean, what kind of madness is that?! Becoming a creative has given me the ability to speak up for so many just because I can. Just because I’m me. Just because I’m here.

If you’re like me, unaware of how to get into the industry or don’t know WTF it’s about, find your creative voice and don’t stop using it. Being black or a person of colour is not an asset, your voice is.

Now the onus is on the big dons sitting high up in agencies, the ones that have the power to transform the industry. We need more initiatives like Night School and we need more doors opened so that creatives can be welcomed into agencies without having to have gone to ad school. Trusss me, we have enough experience to bring to the table. But please don’t get it twisted, it’s not our job to come in and fix things – it’s your job to give us the opportunity to do so.

I’m still trying to figure out the truth in all of this ad stuff but I have learned the truth in what being a creative means to me. It’s representation. It’s sharing lived experiences so that people can connect. It’s a name I’m proud of and I want others to be given the chance to be proud to call themselves it too.

A lot of people will look at this film and question where it came from and why we really put it out. When they do, tell them it comes from young, black creatives and creatives of colour taking up space and working with white creatives making things right.

It’s time to flip the narrative in conversations about race within the homes of families and in the homes we call agencies.

Right, now go watch the film, do the work and spread the word.

Saffron Renzullo is a graduate of The Brooklyn Brothers' Night School and was named a Campaign Face to Watch in 2020. She worked on Dear White Parents, a public awareness campaign encouraging white parents to talk with their children about racism early and often. 

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