At first sight,
the reactions varied.
of people looked at the headline and said, 'How dare you?!'"
recalls Creative Director Lee St. James of his anti-Ebonics ad
for Atlanta's Black Professionals. "And then there were
a few smiles and sheepish grins. One woman actually hugged me
after she read it."
responses may have run the gamut, but after absorbing the ad,
virtually everyone saw a clear and pure message"one that
resonates with immediacy and power. Says St. James of the approach:
"It's not about black or white. It's about credibility and
The ad appeared amid a storm of controversy surrounding Ebonics,
or "black" English. St. James had discussed the issue
with several African-American colleagues in Atlanta's Black Professionals.
Their consensus was that, even though they believed in the importance
of slang and colloquialism, the thought of not fostering proper
English in the black community was frightening. "What if
Martin Luther King had not spoken as eloquently as he did?"
St. James asks. "His credibility would have been diminished."
was to write a headline in Ebonics, but this was a challenge
to do without sounding trite or flippant. St. James ultimately
decided on Martin Luther King's landmark speech as the appropriate
anchor. "Of course it was controversial and we were tweaking
people for sure, but the ad had to live up to King's words."
Though the headline packs a punch, the visual solution is just
as emphatic. "We started out over-designing," remembers
the creative director. "Then we came up with a simple representation
of King turning his back on Ebonics."
myriad news articles and brewing factions, the topical ad was
met with a great deal of interest. It ran both in newspapers
and as posters; in fact, it was so popular that it was requested
by schools stretching from Miami to Richmond. The editorial arena
of newsprint proved the ideal medium for such a potent message.
"Newspapers get at issues, so there's an immediacy to the
advertisement," says St. James. "Another great thing
about newspapers is that they're big, almost like posters. That
gives them the same stopping power."