TURNING THE TABLE: ALLIE KEITH
A LOOK AT AMAZING WORK BY OUR PHOTOGRAPHY & ILLUSTRATION AWARDS JUDGES
April 28, 2022
Allie Keith is an Associate Creative Director/Art Director at Ogilvy Toronto, and recently served as one of our 2022 Photography and Illustration Awards Judges. For over a decade she's helped brands gain recognition through brave thinking, smart branding, good strategy, and creating emotional connections. She strongly believes that we can use our talents to make beautiful things but also try to do some good in the world. She's won many awards and her work has been featured on the front page of the Toronto Star and countless other publications but none of that has helped her parents understand what she does for a living. In her off time, she likes to try and make people laugh and watches Beyoncé videos.
We are immensely grateful that Allie chose to spend some of her off time with us as a judge, and we asked her to share a recent project of hers that she felt particularly proud of, and her choice is moving, impactful and vital.
Help us tell the story of this recent project of yours you felt “shone through.”
After the murder of George Floyd, my friends started to share stories. Stories of discrimination they’ve faced and continue to face in Canada. One of my friends told the story of his family's experience in Africville. (If you don’t know what that is look it up)
I wondered why I had never heard of some of the stories before, stories that had been passed down for generations. Surely with that much history they would exist in the history books? They did not.
History sets the context for our world as we understand it today. Based on our collective education and understanding, we believe we know who we are as Canadians and how we got here. But currently, that historical context is skewed to only one voice: the predominantly white men who wrote our history textbooks and curriculum. When we leave out the important contributions of Black people in our history, we fail to see them as part of our collective heritage, and they continue to be seen as “other” in today’s world, which isn’t true.
Even though Black Canadians have been making important contributions to Canada’s history for over 400 years, Black history is not currently included as part of Ontario’s curriculum roadmap and action plan, and therefore, have not been a priority for policymakers.
Our goal was to get Ontario education policymakers to see the issue of the lack of Black History education as a concern they should be alarmed by and need to address immediately, by delivering the message in a way that’s impossible to ignore.
In order to show how skewed our history curriculum is, The Ontario Black History Society took a Grade 8 textbook currently being used in Ontario schools and “blacked out” all of the non-Black history. Of the 255 pages, only 13 remained.
Packages that included the “blacked out” textbooks were mailed directly to key policymakers, activists, and members of the media. This included Premier Doug Ford, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh, and several opposition MPPs in Ontario. Also included in the packages were a letter from the OBHS demanding Black History become a mandatory part of the curriculum, a CTA to participate in the conversation online using #BlackedOutHistory, and a link to the PSA they launched to support the campaign.
What were some unique features of the campaign?
This project happened out of sheer will power and willingness to make change. All the individuals involved donated their time to make this happen. We had no budget, no media buy, everything that we created from the book itself, to the PSA film, to the outreach, to the plan of how to reach policymakers we built and created with resourcefulness and utter determination.
What were the success stats or indicators?
Once we put the PSA spot out into the world it started to gain massive amounts of attention from educators and the press. It was covered by The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Yahoo, City News, BT, CBC, Narcity, CP24 and made the front page of the Toronto Star. Overall, it got over 5.6 million impressions with a 90% positive sentiment score.
But what made us the most proud was seeing students and educators using the book as points of demonstration and protest against the bias of what they were learning and had been taught. Seeing students create replicas of the book or teachers tweeting the use of the books in their lesson plans was truly a proud moment for us.
Can you give us some "peeks" behind-the-scenes?
Some interesting things that we don’t get to see in our case film was that Nelson, the maker of the textbook, reached out to the Ontario Black History Society once the PSA film had started to gain a lot of attention in an effort to remedy the lack of pages in their textbooks. That was a big step forward.
Another thing that we don’t really get to show in the case film is that we actually made 13 blacked out books and we blacked out the books ourselves by hand. We used a ruler and a sharpie and went through each sentence line by line blacking out all 242 pages. It takes about 4 hours to do 10 pages so by the end we had all inhaled a lot of marker fumes. But it was absolutely worth it.
Why is this particular project a fave?
This project was particularly personal to me. I’m a mixed-race woman of colour but I have always benefitted from some privilege. I think that our industry has a lot of power to influence people. And we have a choice as to whether we want to use that power for good. This project allowed me (and everyone involved) to do something good for the community. And for me personally, it allowed me to use my influence and privilege to help lift the voices of people who had already been fighting for this issue.
As mentioned above, every single person involved brought their entire heart and soul to this project. There is no way we could have created this without the powerful grit and determination of these talented individuals all working together for this cause. Seeing everyone come together to fight for this cause was incredible and I am so, so grateful.
Can you give us your opinion on what you think made this project a success?
This project proved to me that a simple creative idea can unlock something truly powerful. The fact that our Canadian history is taught with so much bias is an abstract concept, but with something like this it was so clearly demonstrated that there really is no denying it. And so now this claim we’re making is no longer a theory. It becomes proof that we have a problem, and now we have a useful tool we can use to protest for what’s right.
If we hadn’t blacked out the books, I think I wouldn’t have been as aware about how I was taught in school. I would have always known there was an issue but doing this has forever changed the way I see our Canadian education. It’s an important lesson in bias. I hope if nothing else, every time someone sees this work a small lightbulb goes off that sparks critical thinking going forward. Just that small pivot in understanding would already start to make a difference.
Having Allie on our jury judging the best in photography and illustration was a pleasure and, as you have just read, she is doing amazing work herself. You can see more of it here.