You know you’re some kind of special when you’re invited into someone’s home.
So, image how honored I felt as a guest in the home of living legend Tom Burrell, the founder of Burrell Communications, one of the first black-owned advertising agencies in Chicago, and possibly the United States. He also authored Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, my second favorite book about the black experience in America. (Mis-Education of the Negro by Dr. Carter G. Woodson is my all time favorite).
How I Got There
I was invited by market research maven Pepper Miller, President of the Hunter-Miller Group and the author of Black Still Matters in Marketing andco-author of What’s Black About It? Insights to Increase Your Share of a Changing African American Market.
We were having a conversation about how black people are traditionally ignored by larger marketing companies although we spend nearly $1 trillion dollars per year. We were also discussing the under-representation or the misrepresentation of black people in mainstream media.
I went into my Angela Davis mode, telling her about the books I’ve read that have influenced my thinking:
- Black Women in White America by Gerda Lerner
- When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings
- Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99% by Kari Lydersen
I also told her about my desire to help people, especially African Americans, understand that their history is important and that they should be writing their stories to include in the pages of history.
Hanging with the Burrells
First of all, Tom and his wife, Madeline, are warm and welcoming, just like their home. My favorite space of all was a cozy, little cubbyhole under the staircase. It was full of books, a massage chair and just enough light to illuminate his space. I was drawn to this area for two reasons. First, I’m a bookworm and I felt right at home. And second, it was actually a vision come to life for me as I envisioned a similar space in my home.
The other participants were just as welcoming. I gathered that they were all marketing professionals. Of course, I saw this as an opportunity to find out if they could connect me with freelance writing opportunities. One person may have an opportunity at a nonprofit organization. Another person has just interviewed at University of Chicago where I’ve been trying to get in there as a freelancer for close to a year now. A third person works at a marketing firm where I’ve been trying to freelance since last year.
You know, it was great to be with a group of people who understand and value black history. There are so many things happening in society today that black people are complaining about; but because they are not aware of their history they don’t know that history is only repeating itself. Like Chaka Khan said in our interview a few years ago: nothing that is being done is new; it’s just being done in a more intellectual way.
Overall, it was a humbling and wonderful experience to be able to sit next to this living legend in home in a group of cool people.
I’m not sure in which stage the documentary is in. I do know that it will be amazing when it’s done. There are things that you can now to help producer Jonathan Ashley to manifest his vision:
- Make a tax-exempt donation at Chicago Filmmakers
- Connect Ashley with investors
- Like the Tom Burrell Documentary page on Facebook