The Company You Keep!

You Will Be Judged

 “You will be judged by the company you keep.”   When I was growing up, my great grandmother would remind me of this periodically.  My mother and grandmother’s addendum to this counsel was that I should choose to associate with people who were going somewhere in life.  In case you don’t recognize it, their advice is their restatement and interpretation of “birds of a feather flock together”.

On Friday November 22, 2013, I received the 2013 MAAX Award for Advertising Executive of the Year.  After I finally came to terms with that, it was pretty exciting and very gratifying to be acknowledged by my peers after so many years in the advertising field.  MAAX stands for Marketing to African Americans with Excellence.  The awards were introduced by Target Market News in 2006 “to recognize the contributions, innovations and exceptional performance of African-American professionals in the fields of marketing, advertising, media, public relations and consumer research” according to its founder, Ken Smikle.

D. Gray-Young MAAX Awards 2013

Deborah Gray-Young, 2013 MAAX Advertising Executive of the Year with Ken Smikle, Founder of the MAAX Awards
Photo: Howard D. Simmons ©2013

As I looked out at the audience half of whom I knew, I couldn’t help but hear the echo of  my phenomenal sheroes.  They would have been so proud and impressed with the people who were in attendance at the Hyatt Mag Mile in Chicago listening to and applauding their daughter’s comments and accomplishments.  They would have laughed at the stories and comments made by my colleagues.





And then they would have been in for a real treat when my fellow honorees took the podium:

  • Carol Cunningham, VP, Consumer Insights BET Networks Research Executive of the Year
  • Len Burnett, CEO, Group Publisher Uptown Media, Media Executive of the Year
  • Robin Beaman, President, CEO Beaman, Incorporated., Public Relations Executive of the Year
  • Shawn Thompson, Manager, Multicultural Marketing, Ford Motor Company, Marketing Executive of the Year
  • Barry Cooper, Founder,, Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Linda Jefferson, SVP Media Services, Burrell Communications, Lifetime Achievement Award

2013 MAAX Awards Honorees

At the conclusion of the luncheon they would have been thoroughly fascinated and exhausted; their energy spent trying to remember everyone’s face and name and most of all, their stories.

That Carol is Cuban “with the last name of Cunningham” and was appointed to the Board of Directors of Syracuse University by the Dean of the Newhouse School of Communications.  That Robin started out with BET and then worked for Oprah and now has a better than thriving PR practice. That Len is a serial publisher, entrepreneur and visionary with titles like Vibe, Heart and Soul and Savoy on his resume.  That Shawn is a fourth generation Ford careerist and started on the night shift in a plant many years ago. That Barry Cooper is a journalist who started out selling newspapers door to door and later had an idea for creating a central hub for information and entertainment for African Americans.  And that Linda J is my dear dear friend and colleague who like me at the beginning of her career, was a “two-for” and was placed in a corner at her first ad agency and virtually ignored.

2013 MAAX Awards Chicago

The Company I Keep; the 2013 MAAX Awards Luncheon
Photo: Howard D.Simmons ©2013

They would have done their best to meet everyone at every table and hear their stories as well.  They would have been outdone to meet McGhee Osse, co-CEO of Burrell Communications, or Jim Colon, VP of Product Communications for Toyota. They would have asked him more than once why he took a red eye from Los Angeles to be in attendance.

They would have enjoyed meeting my good friend Debbie Smith of Organic Root Stimulator and Andrea Holmes-Thompkins, CEO of ACE Media who flew in from New York just to say congratulations to me.  My mother would have wanted to know where she got her shoes.

Meeting Pepper Miller of the Hunter -Miller Group and Ty Johnson of Aspire and UP TV and Steve Canty from Common Ground and Tahjma Hall and Reggie Denson who work with Tom Joyner and Elverage Allen with BOUNCE TV and Tasha Levy from Interactive One and Robert Bush and Pluria Marshall from Integrated Multicultural Media Solutions and Urban Digital Network and Darryl Heggans from TV One and Matthew Barnhill, Eric Thomas and Wanda Sutherland from BET and Kevin McFall of Johnson Publishing.

They would have gotten a kick out of meeting my team Brian Elrod, Jhontia Williams, Jill Bollero and William Moore.  My mother especially would have wanted to hear their Deborah stories.

I would have reminded Ken that my grandmother and his aunt knew each other back in the day through their hairdresser and my grandmother would have wondered whether she had ever seen Ken’s wife Renee Ferguson on television.

They absolutely would have been overjoyed to see and hug Betty Clayton just one more time and thank her for being my friend all of these years since she hired me in 1983 at Mingo- Jones.

And when they had made their rounds, they would have come back to their favorite person of all.  They would have each taken one of his arms and his hand and beamed with pride and joy as their sweetheart, my husband, escorted them out – finally.

“WOW!! Deborah Denice, you know some very nice and very smart and impressive people” my grand mother would say.

“You sure do” my mother would agree.  “Everyone was so well spoken and well dressed.”

“Yes I do”, I would say.  “And yes they were.  And today especially, I am humbled and proud to be judged by the company I keep.”

“And so you should” my Great grandmother would say quietly while savoring how far we have come since she left us in 1968.  “And so you should.”


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