Review: Black Creatives Spotlighted in Chicago Humanities Festival’s Documentary Just Like Me

TTK Harris directed the documentary Just Like Me while a senior art director at ad agency Havas Chicago to chronicle his journey as a designer of color. In his tight, bright yet thought-provoking 30-minute film, he celebrates “the people who helped me get to this point.” He interviews other creators, mostly New York-based, who “throw the line back” to up-and-coming BIPOC makers. The group has become the representation they lacked when they were coming up in the design field. Harris says that his initials now mean “Teach The Kids.”

“No one taught us that digital marketing was a career,” one said. Another notes that high school guidance counselors never had conversations with them about attending college. Some were only judged by their SAT scores. “By that measure, I’m stupid,” an interviewee said. When some tried for internships, in Black creative spaces like Jive Records, they weren’t allowed to receive credit from their schools.

Harris, an ex-submariner who served for a decade as a Navy sonar technician, became a painter and graphic designer, and has worked on notable campaigns for musicians Nas and Run the Jewels, as well as creating a line for Urban Outfitters. Interviewee and visual artist Cey Adams was Def Jam Recordings’ founding creative director, designing for major acts such as Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow and Beastie Boys.

Brooklyn’s Douglas Davis didn’t have any professors of color (even at HBCUs), so he became one himself. The designer, author and strategist became the BFA Communications Chair at New York City’s College of Technology. “I became all the things I didn’t see,” he said.

Digital marketer Aleesha Smalls-Worthington works out of Queens, and Dana Givens moved from Detroit to Brooklyn to pursue digital product design, and also launched the Pop Viewers app for African-American film and TV reviews.

TTK Harris

Julian Alexander is a Grammy Award-winning art director and founder of the design studio Slang, Inc. John JP Petty came from Philly, and talks about how Black creatives are “where the block meets the boardroom.” The interviewees acknowledge that they have to start from scratch because “this shit wasn’t built for us. That’s just facts.”

Despite overwhelming obstacles, this group of talented African American designers have learned to accept rejection, push back against self-doubt, and have realized that “you can live off what you love.” This energetic movie, propelled by a dynamic backbeat and jazzy animation, encourages creators of color to “lean into your perspective, and empower your brothers and sisters to do the same,” one said.

“This is the creative industry,” another adds. “ You should be making up new fucking rules every day.”

Just Like Me screens as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, on Saturday, May 6, 8-9:15pm, at Epiphany Center for the Arts, 207 S. Ashland Ave. An Arts Pass for center events is $15 for members and $20 for the general public.

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Karin McKie
Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.