AT&T Dream In Black is Celebrating Black Creators & Black Excellence

Photo: Courtesy of Richard Taylor/Booc.
AT&T Dream in Black is a lifestyle platform designed to merge Black culture with technology. Through their Black Future Makers programming, they are tapping in culture shapers, influencers, activists, entrepreneurs, and entertainers who are making a difference in their communities. Recently, the brand celebrated Black  excellence at this year's Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans with a series of interactive panels. The events featured so many of our faves like Lori Harvey, Coco Jones, Lala Milan, and Ashanti to discuss important cultural topics such as generational wealth, budgeting, and leveraging our collective and individual power to impact the future for good. 
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While attending Essence Festival with AT&T Dream in Black, I had the opportunity to chat with its Vice President of Talent & Leadership Development, Michelle Jordan, and Marachel Knight, Senior Vice President of Technology Planning & Operations — two of the platform’s front-facing female executives. We spoke about their AT&T Black Future Makers programming, what makes a successful diversity and inclusion initiatives, and how to connect with a Gen Z audience.
Unbothered: What is AT&T looking for in leaders when it comes to new initiatives like Black Future Makers?
Marachel Knight: I'll start off with curiosity — just continuing to ask why. What problem are we solving? How do we know when we’ve solved it? Curiosity is what drives that rather than just taking things at face value or a surface level. 
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Taylor/Booc.
Michelle Jordan: The second value is communication. Not just in its basic form, like writing an email or knowing how to draft a message, but always thinking about the notion of constant communication. Who to communicate to, knowing how to communicate why, and then sending the message. Lastly, you’ve got to know who your customer is so you can drive credibility and trust while also meeting your customers' needs. Understanding your customer collaboration, being curious, and always communicating are all so critical from a leadership standpoint. And our future makers, the other thing that really makes them stand out uniquely is their investment in their communities. 
Yes, I love that! You gotta always bring it back.
MJ: Exactly. Paying it forward and taking care of your community is the centrepiece for future makers. Understanding and recognizing those who are making an impact on their career.
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We’re also putting people that look like us in rooms that they should be in, making sure supervisors are letting their employees' voices be heard in every meeting.

Marachel Knight
When it comes to the brand's voice, how are you making sure the messaging is organic and effective in reaching the younger audience?
MK: Like an Essence Festival, we are also looking to amplify the culture so that we can have more Black entrepreneurs, Black professionals, Black innovators, and Black future makers. All of that is authentic to us, so we don’t have to do anything different — we just partner and connect with brands that have similar ideals.
I also think it’s so important to have people in leadership that understands the brand and its audience. 
MK: The brand is also showing up in the communities where we live and work, and we’re intentional in making sure Gen Zers are amplified and connected to the brand. We also use them as feedback, so the Gen Z audience is pushing us to stay more authentic. 
Photo: Courtesy of Richard Taylor/Booc.
MJ: You think of it as a telephone company, but AT&T are constantly trying to make sure that we’re speaking to our youth. We have interns with us this summer, many of whom are from HBCUs — I even host them for dinner at my house. Dream in Black also helps us make that connection so we can tell our story, connecting with dreamers and sharing that narrative in a way that resonates.
Tell me a little bit more about what diversity and inclusion looks like at AT&T. I’m obviously learning a lot about AT&T’s efforts here at Essence Fest, but I’d like readers to understand that the brand isn’t just throwing the word around.
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MJ: At AT&T, we have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) as well as employee networks. Just to put things in perspective, the Black ERG just celebrated its 50- year anniversary — we’re not new! And it’s not just race based; we have religious-oriented groups, groups connecting women in technology and in finance, and AT&T is very actively involved in the LGBTQIA+ communities as well. Diversity at this company is really about making sure that we understand and meet the needs of these different spaces. It’s about educating those who aren’t necessarily a part of a segment.
MK: We’re also putting people that look like us in rooms that they should be in, making sure supervisors are letting their employees' voices be heard in every meeting.
One last question, How do you stay Unbothered?
MJ: For me, it’s about setting boundaries. I'm very protective of my mental health, so work-life harmony is essential to me. And I have to model it; If I'm on vacation, I'm not pinging my team because I want them to be fully checked out when they go on vacation.

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