(By Deborah Parenti) I’ve never met Aurora James. In fact, I had not heard of her until she was introduced to me recently in the way so many people and things are these days: featured on a news program to which I was only half-listening that broke through whatever I was doing and made me sit up and pay attention. And I was glad I did.
Aurora James is the Canadian-born, New York based-founder and creative director of Brother Vellies, producing luxury fashion accessories made by African artisans. With an impressive background in fashion, journalism, art, music, photography, and horticulture, she started her company in 2013, driven by a desire to save indigenous crafts. Within two years she had won a $300,000 CFDA/ Vogue Fashion Award and in 2019 she was named one of Crain’s New York Business “40 Under 40.”
But far beyond providing an example of business success, it’s in her most recent undertaking that the energy and creative vision of this young Black woman positively shine.
Following the death of George Floyd last summer and the protests, James decided to seize the moment and channel it into positive action. The starting premise was simple. If Black people represent 15% of the population, why not ask retailers to commit that percentage at minimum of their shelves to Black-owned businesses? It offered a tangible idea to companies that were committed to putting words into action aimed at combating racial injustices and bigotry. And so the “15 Percent Pledge” was launched. To date, companies including Macy’s, Sephora, GAP, Bloomingdales, Old Navy, and Crate & Barrel have taken the pledge. It really is a remarkable achievement and a testament to how one idea can inspire action by others.
And it is that same kind of spirited dedication and determination that is on display throughout the current issue of Radio Ink (March 9, 2021), which proudly spotlights African American Future Leaders. Within those print pages lies a gold mine of opportunities for the radio industry to develop, encourage, and most of all listen to in shaping its future. That takes more than desire, it takes concentrated effort. Going the extra mile to uncover talent many times means getting out of the comfort zone. Understanding that what drops at your door is only the tip of the iceberg and limits the pool is key. You have to cast a wider net and give it an added 15 percent effort.
But it works both ways, and smart recruits know that. Aspiring candidates have to make themselves visible in a world that has too often become face less, first due to technology that can have resumes landing in a cyber-hole of anonymity and, today, battling pandemic complications. And both sides need to be open and objective in establishing the kind of rapport that leads to a strong and mutually beneficial working relationship. Just like generational differences, cultural nuances need to be recognized, respected, and celebrated.
It also goes beyond hiring. As broadcasters charged with serving the public interest, there is an inherent responsibility to effect and impact listeners and communities. Fifteen percent can encompass a broad and profoundly dynamic array of visceral attitudes and concrete initiatives. It can be the starting point in finding ways to creatively help minority businesses gain access to other businesses in cooperative ventures or promotional partnerships, all fostered by local radio stations. From job fairs to public service and positive community support, radio has the plat forms that can put shoppers in stores, get listeners engaging in contests, and bring out the masses for a blood drive. That’s because radio drives people and inspires enthusiasm. Much like Aurora James.
Inspired to make a change. Not afraid to dream big. We need more Auroras who can light a fire and envision not only what we need to do to make a better world but who offer creative ideas — and follow up with the execution — that turn those ideas into reality.
Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected]