Alumnus Lewis Williams, of Burrell Communications, speaks on multiculturalism and media

Williams is executive vice president and chief creative officer at the multimedia marketing company.

Alumnus Lewis Williams spoke on whether multiculturalism has become the new mainstream at the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium at Newhouse 3 Tuesday. The answer, he said, cannot by answered simply by yes or no.

Williams began his career as an art director at Burrell Communications in 1999. Founded in 1971 by Thomas Burrell, the multimedia marketing company advocates for African-American communities and promotes their positive representations in American media. As executive vice president and chief creative officer at Burrell Communications, Williams turns creative ideas into marketing strategies. He has won awards through One Show Entertainment and New York Festivals, according to his website.

Titled “Is Multicultural the New Mainstream,” Williams’ lecture was part of the Leaders in Communication speaker series at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

In response to his lecture’s title, Williams began with “yes.” He stated that 51 percent of newborn babies in the U.S. are people of color. He then showed a video clip, in which an African American girl defined herself as American and said she was a colorless person. At this, Williams suddenly turned to a “no.”

The next clip he showed involved white students struggling to identify their names when an African American teacher took attendance, because the teacher’s pronunciation was different from what they heard most of the time. Williams said he thought the clip was an excellent example of cultural difference and that it matters in the new mainstream.

“Black people live across a spectrum, navigating various lives and lifestyles, customs and experiences. But, remain true to their core cultural DNA as African Americans,” Williams said.

He also said 68 percent of African Americans prefer to see representations consistent with their culture in the media. Then he showed clips of ads that Burrell Communications produced for McDonalds. In one of the clips, a successful black professional offers a McDonalds meal to a young black man who started has his own career. The black professional told the young man that he had once failed a course, and inspired the young man to believe that success was achievable.

The audience asked Williams questions about how successful black people navigate cultural moments when they encounter black people who live in poor neighborhoods. They wondered if the successful black people felt distance between poor black neighborhoods.

In response, Williams said well-off black people can still maintain bonds with their neighborhoods through long-time commitment to their churches, schools and communities.

“You’ve got to know what’s going on in your community,” Williams said. “It’s not an overnight thing. You can’t just go in and win the back. You’ve got to win their trust. You’ve got to win their respect.”

Williams said he was on SU campus about two decades ago. He recalled that he was the only person of color in his graduate class, but he was happy to see more diversity at Newhouse. He encouraged Newhouse student to be aware of diversity in the real world.

Bingzhu Luo, an advertising sophomore, said she benefited from the presentation. “I have learned how to get along with different people in my future career,” Luo said.

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