46) My simpatico: Keni Thacker
One cannot say enough good things about Keni Thacker, certainly not I. The best I can do is to explain the relationship we developed this summer. I first became aware of Keni through my Twitter network. The first day I met him he was putting the kibosh on the pre-flight arrangements of Differenter’s LGBT Pride Day. One of Keni’s many facilities within JWT is the leader of Differenter, a multicultural initiative that supports community development both inside the agency and out. The Pride event, around the same weekend as New York’s citywide LGBT Pride Celebration, was the first company event I witnessed. It happened to be a Thursday. I know this because it was the first all-you-can-drink Dos Equis night at the JWT bar. On a brief aside, I always said that bar needed a real name, so I’m tossing Commodore’s (after naval man and founder of the company, James Walter Thompson) into the hat.
Keni came sauntering into the bar, exchanging greetings and smiles in usual fashion. I introduced myself and mentioned that I had interacted with him previously on Twitter. I went on to add that I requested him to be my mentor, but that I had been placed with someone else already. Keni smiled and said “I don’t know who they placed you with, but you tell that guy I’m your mentor now.” Just like that, he became my go-to brother.
Keni already had trainees scattered about town interning at other agencies or working freelancing positions. But because I was in the unique position of being the only one inside the agency, I developed a unique relationship. Keni would later joke that if he were a teen-dad, I would have been his son. A statement that never loosens its clench on the strings of my heart–I’m getting a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves.
He would be the Michael Caine character in my Cider House Rules. Which of course means I was something of a dashing Toby McGuire. I admired Keni, who was experienced enough to provide guidance, but young enough to knock down a few picklebacks* or a tequila flight with us after work. We had great, candid conversations and were each other’s source of relief in that we were two youngish, creative, black, extroverted gentlemen concerned about the same community issues and the state of diversity the industry.
Although his title doesn’t serve him justice, I’m not sure that there is one that can. He’s in the executive entourage of JWT. He often particpates in new business. He participates in underprivileged outreach programs such as Together Our Resources Can Help (TORCH). He, as previously mentioned, runs the Differenter committee. He produced the documentary Perfiles about Latino pride, passion and perseverance in creative industries. In his own words, “people often ask me what it is I do. Honestly I don’t know. I’m just in a constant state of Living Loving and Creating Change #LLCC.” It’s a noble goal that we should all take stock in.
Having a professional mentor is fairly valuable, especially in a large company. It is far too easy to be a stray cog. There is a bad Jetson’s joke in there somewhere. Having a mentor means that you have a confidant, an adviser, a cheerleader, a reference and a friend. In a cutthroat business world, what more do you need? I read recently that “when we’re young we think our cause is a sprint, when we’re middle-aged we think it’s a marathon, when we’re old we think it’s a relay race.” Somehow Keni embodies all three. He sprints his leg of the relay marathon–and I am grateful for it. He is among the finest men I have the pleasure of knowing.
If you don’t have a mentor, I would encourage you to find one. Might I suggest Twitter?