Editor’s Note: “The Reel Black List” is our annual spotlight of brothers and sisters in the worlds of advertising, film, TV, music, radio and media who are making a difference through their contributions and creativity on a daily basis. During the month of February, you will be able to celebrate wonderful human beings, like Storm Smith with us.
Storm Smith is a producer at BBDO Los Angeles. She is involved in cross-function Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility work with BBDO offices in North America.” – with the lead of Diversity Inclusion and Accessibility function within the production unit for AT&T. She is the first Deaf woman to have been recruited by BBDO Worldwide.
She continues in roles of creative director for collaborative projects, motivational speakers on larger scale events, and a thought leader for change in the creative and advertising industry.
Storm joined BBDO Worldwide in 2017 as an art director. Her storytelling work immediately helped shine a positive light on critical societal issues such as people with disabilities, gender equality and people of color. For example, she worked on the “It’s Time to Redefine” campaign as part of International Women’s Day, which sought to change the online dictionary definition of woman.
ALSO READ: MORE REEL BLACK LIST
Storm also worked closely with the Ford Foundation on Roadmap for Inclusion report and thought leaders in the industry to push for greater change in the representation of diversity and disability in the media. Collaborations have included working with Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin, Tony Award nominee and Marvel’s Eternal’s actress Lauren Ridloff for the Deaf non-profit organization and Harlem Globetrotter Crissa Jackson on behalf of her advocacy for young girls in sports, and more. Advocacy at heart, she co-founded the new community titled We Are Here – Disability at ADCOLOR with Bryan Stromer, Product Marketing at Microsoft, to for the conference and non-profit organization. She appointed to serve on global media brand publication Ad Age Advisory Diversity Council. She appointed as an advisor for Crip Camp x Adobe Fellowship program (follow by the Impact campaign for the Award-winning Netflix Documentary Crip Camp which executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama).
Storm’s tireless efforts to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility have earned her a special recognition from President Barack Obama for the 30th anniversary on ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), ADCOLOR Unsung Community Hero award, and a prestigious award from the City of Los Angeles. She featured in the major publications including in PopSugar, Los Angeles Times, Billboard, AdAge, Yahoo! Life, Localish on ABC, and more.
What’s your origin story?
I was born as an only child and had complete hearing until I lost it at the age of two. I picked up American Sign Language (ASL) quickly at the age of five but heavily relied on my eyesight. Anything visual captivated me. The art of ASL and movies and TV was the epitome of storytelling. I knew that I wanted to be storyteller, too, because it aligned with my talents and passions.
At the age of 17 I left my home in Los Angeles for Washington D.C. to pursue my college education in Psychology. Afterwards I began my career in communications, media, and public relations at Gallaudet University, the only university in the world where students live and learn in ASL. Throughout that time I had the pertinacity drive to hone my skills in production, marketing, and storytelling. It paid off when I became the first Deaf woman recruited by BBDO Worldwide in 2017. I am currently at BBDO LA (Los Angeles) as a producer with a core focus on diversity, equity and inclusion cross-function work across BBDO agencies, like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. I also continue my creative director roles for collaborative projects, serve as a motivational speaker at large scale events, and am a thought leader for change in the creative and advertising industry.
How did you get into Advertising?
Early in my career I spent six years in higher education at Gallaudet University. In 2016 I met BBDO’s EVP for diversity and inclusion at a Clinton Foundation event, “Lights! Camera! Access!”, designed to address underrepresentation of people with disabilities in the media. At the time, I was a creative video producer for the Office of the Gallaudet President. The EVP invited me to visit the agency and, although I had no idea what we would talk about, I accepted. Afterwards I was offered a job to join BBDO’s Creative Residence Program, which provides real on-the-job experience. It was a whole 180° turn for me from the educational industry to the advertising industry, which was a huge jump. I did not have a formal education or training in advertising. Since entering the industry I’ve learned that storytelling is one of my critical skills that will go far.
Who were your mentors?
I have had different mentors over the years and would not be where I am today without them. At Gallaudet University, I had Jane Norman, former chair of the Communications department. She encouraged me to pursue my passions in filmmaking when I was playing it “safe” and considering pursuing my career in school counseling. Teresa Ezzell, a former communication/ content/ public relations specialist and producer, has been my backbone and taught me everything about marketing in my early career. Dr. Kojo Amssiah also specifically told me to immediately go with BBDO and always go big.
At BBDO, I have JD Michaels and Karla Myers, former executives, who have mentored me in navigating the corporate space and elevating my confidence in who I am. I have Carla Eboli from Energy BBDO in Chicago, who is currently mentoring me to be a great leader in our company. I have amazing colleagues from BBDO IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Allyship) advisory group, which is BBDO’s employee-led diversity and inclusion initiative IDEA that I am currently serving on. They have taught me so much that I consider part of my mentorship. Ultimately, the biggest mentor in my life is my mother. She has taught me countless life lessons on loving myself as a Black Deaf woman.
While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?
I have done a lot of collaborative creative work. One of my proudest works where I’ve pushed for change is “Am I Next,” a rare, powerful story inspired by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others that sparked the nation-wide and global-wide Black Lives Matter movement. With the stories of Black lives being shared, one particular group’s voice wasn’t being heard: Black Deaf people.
“Am I Next?” spotlights the struggle and oppression perpetrated by systemic racism that Black Deaf people experience daily. The police brutality. The non-verbal communications about race in our community. The racist comments. The stares of “You don’t belong here. Go back to where you came from.” Daily, we ask ourselves, “Am I Next?” We carry our strengths and resiliencies, yet we are in constant fear of our last breath. Will it be sooner than expected?
The film contains no audio and sound, but the words and visuals of the Black Deaf community speak volumes. I collaborated, co-wrote, and co-produced “Am I Next?” with “Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales” video game and Netflix’s “Politician” actress, advocate, and a dear friend of mine, Natasha Ofili. During the post-production process, I couldn’t stop crying. At that moment I realized how personal it was to me. The short film has been viewed +100K times on social media platforms to date. We wanted to educate the world about years of oppression experienced by Black community with disabilities and catalyze change within our Deaf community.
How has having the superpower of your Blackness helped you?
After a personal self-discovery journey, I have embraced myself as a Black Deaf woman for the last few years. If anything would describe my superpower of my Blackness it is “unapologetic.” A lot is involved with being unapologetic — it is the resilience, vulnerability, integrity, pertinacity, compassion and passions. Being unapologetic allows me to navigate through barriers and show up for myself and for others. It gives me the permission to tell stories that haven’t been told, and share voices haven’t been heard.
If Black culture is your superpower, what is your kryptonite?
Not being myself, not embracing who I am, and dealing with imposter syndrome is probably my kryptonite.
How did last year’s BLM movements affect you personally?
The Black Lives Matter movement changed me overnight. I had this intense realization and fear that stepping out of the house is a risk. Not only because of the color of my skin, but my gender and my deafness altogether can end my life in an instant because of someone else’s hatred. That’s what drove me to create the short film “Am I Next?”. It also motivates me to show up more with and for Black communities with disabilities. All of this advocacy work is not only to dismantle barriers, but to elevate equality and disability justice for the equitable future.
What can the industry do better to promote true diversity?
Diversity is one thing. Inclusion is another. It is essential to take steps back and find out what communities are excluded. We also have to check our conscious and unconscious biases while holding ourselves accountable when doing the intersectional DEI work. Disability communities are starting to emerge and are also the largest marginalized community. When we challenge the status quo, that often causes more harm than good, we can find long sustainable solutions in the industries. At the end of the day, we all matter.
If you’re Batman, who’s Robin?
Neither. I am Storm from X-Men, that’s who! 😉
What drives you to create?
I create an impactful, meaningful story with powerful narratives that will stay with you. Ultimately, I want a story that moves grounds to drive change and elevate. That’s what drives me to create. There are ways to tell a story and influence behaviors for a better tomorrow.