Jeresa Anderson, Howard University News Service
February marks the celebration of Black History Month where those involved take the time to acknowledge the rich and diverse history of those who came before them and those who are currently making a difference now.
One group who may be overlooked in this are Black speechwriters, who often play a key role in the image of many public figures including politicians and the heads of big companies. Though there are many Black people working in the field, it isn’t as diverse as it could be. Co-founders Michael Franklin and Mintaro Oba aimed to change this by founding Speechwriters of Color.
The organization held its second Black Speechwriters Symposium featuring four panelists, Suzanne Alexander, Meredith Moore, Christopher Huntley and Jesse Moore. The panelists discussed their journeys to becoming speechwriters and their experience of being Black in the field.
“We have a great group here today to not only reflect on their experiences, but provide some inspiration and guidance towards what it takes to be a Black speechwriter not only in politics, but also in corporate, or running their own firm and having various clients and principles too,” said Franklin, a graduating senior legal communications major and Howard University’s 60th SGA Vice President.
Franklin was at the Professional Speechwriters Association World Conference at Georgetown University with other members of Howard University’s Speech and Debate team where he noticed a lack of diversity in the room. This led him to host the first Black Speechwriters Symposium at Howard in 2019 and later partner with co-founder, Mintaro Oba, to create the organization following the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
The killing of George Floyd and its aftermath caused a reckoning on racial and social justice in America was a topic of discussion during the panel. All of the panelists noted having to deal with the situation on their respective teams. One of them being Huntley who is Vice President of Strategic Communications at Blue State and a speechwriter for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Warren released a video in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and the protests that took place afterwards.
“We talked about systemic racism. We talked about whose fault it was and then also what I really pushed for in that video and in that script, was to tell white people that they need to go beyond being allies and to be anti-racist, and to actually make sure they’re doing what they can in their everyday lives to dismantle systemic racism…” said Huntley.
The group of panelists also featured two Howard alumnas, Suzanne Alexander and Meredith Moore.
Alexander majored in journalism at Howard and stayed in the field for 17 years until she switched to public relations and worked at Fidelity Investments and JP Morgan Chase. From then on she became a speechwriter for the CEO of Marriott International.
Moore says she got her start in speechwriting at Howard University where she studied public relations and journalism. This led her down several different paths until she eventually worked at McDonald’s Corporation under the highest ranking African American man.
“He was kind enough to ask me what I wanted to do with this corporation and I told him I just wanted to write for him,” said Moore.
“Speechwriting is not having the job description and somebody saying we need a speechwriter. It’s you knowing, “I have a skill set and here’s how I can help,” and so I helped him,” she continued.
Moore now serves as a corporate speechwriter as well as the owner and president of Leverette Weekes where she helps executives have lasting impacts on their corporations and the world.
Throughout the event the four talked about what it’s like having to advocate for people who look like them, especially when they find themselves being the only one in the room with the courage and experience to speak efficiently on issues regarding race.
The panelists also took the time to give some advice to attendees on what it’s like being in their positions and some of the self-doubt they may encounter while having to advocate not only themselves, but people like them.
Jesse Moore, founder and CEO of Common Thread Strategies and a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, reflected on some advice he received from his brother when he was dealing with imposter syndrome.
“There are pretty much two kinds of successful people in the world. There are people who walk through the door knowing they can do it and feeling confident about that and they exude it and everyone else sees it… the other kind are people who are trying not to make sure no one notices that they don’t belong there and are hoping that no one calls them out…” said Moore.
Moore’s brother defined them as the latter and specified that they are always going to think someone is smarter, but that is not necessarily the case.
If you are interested in learning more about Speechwriters of Color, you can follow their Twitter account, @SpeechwritersC. The event will be available for replay in the coming days.