This Black History Month we sat down with two of our Directors; Zac Evans and Kyle Findley to discuss what black history month means to them and their journey as young, black entrepreneurs.
Zac Evans is a mixed-race business owner from Leeds. Born to a White British mother and a Black British Father of Afro Caribbean descent. Zac’s race and heritage have played a major role in his life. Zac co-founded 21 Degrees Digital, a full service digital marketing agency in 2018 at the age of 24.
We sat Zac down to discuss Black History Month, what it means to him, how his race and heritage has shaped him, the people that inspire him and any advice he’d give to young black entrepreneurs starting out.
What does Black History month mean to you?
“Black History month is a time of reflection and learning, I think it’s important for everyone to acknowledge that. From a personal stand point you must take note that one day we as a society will play a chapter in that history, so ask yourself what would you like the next generations to learn? But it’s only through learning about and understanding the efforts and mistakes made by those before us, that we should then take action ourselves”
Have you faced racism in your lifetime and if so how did this shape you?
Dr King’s Speech “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character” sticks with Zac.
“As a kid I felt like on occasion people identified me by my race first rather than who I was”, at one stage he was the only black student at his high school and carried the nickname ‘Black Zac’ which he explains he doesn’t feel was done maliciously but there’s no denying the racial undertone of such a nickname. “It was very clear what people saw when they looked at me”, this unwanted attention made Zac want to recluse more, shying away from giving people another reason to pay him attention.
Growing up in a mixed-race family had incredible benefits, giving Zac an understanding of both cultures, not all of which was always positive but memories he cherishes all the same. Going to University in Newcastle opened Zac’s eyes further to racism, experiencing open racism that also included him being the victim of a hate crime whilst walking home from a night out, alongside racial profiling from Northumbria Police Force.
Whilst it’s difficult to know as to whether he has been a victim of racism in the business industry Zac has adopted the attitude that “It’s up to you on whether you feel you’ve been a victim of racism or people dislike you for your character”. Not everyone will like you or what you stand for in business but that doesn’t always come down to race, although it’s important to note that race could be a factor. It’s hard not to think that there’s a micro aggression but you can’t get caught up in it.
Have you faced racism in business? What did this look like and what effect did it have on you?
Early on in his career Zac admits that he was driven by money and materialistic things, caring more about what people perceived he had achieved rather than the actual achievement itself. Cutting this down to young age and the societal pressures he felt, he has since changed his perspective. “The joy of running a business isn’t in the financials and potential pay off this could offer, it’s the people. Watching some members of our team achieve milestones such as buying their first properties our giving our first ever member of staff a pay rise they so truly deserved. To achieving national award recognition for our work. That’s why I do it and that’s what makes it worthwhile.”
Are there any black entrepreneurs that inspire you? What about them inspires you?
There’s many inspiring black business owners, leaders and activists that Zac looks up to – Barack Obama and Bob Marley being just one of a few but Zac’s biggest role model is his Dad, Ray Evans. Speaking about his father Zac said that he’s always respected his dad and getting the acknowledgement that he took Zac’s business seriously was a real turning point. “I remember showing up to a client meeting and my Dad had given us the introduction and all the guys were talking about all the great things they’d heard about the business from my Dad. That was a real turning point for me.”
Another inspiration in Zac’s life is his business partner Kyle Findley. For the past 5 years the pair have worked countless 16+ hour days to keep the business going and there’s no one Zac would rather have done it with than Kyle. “Kyle is one of the most honest people I have ever met, I never even used to check the business accounts because I trusted him and knew his intentions.” Every great partnership is built on trust and there’s no one Zac trusts more than Kyle.
How have you put equality, diversity and inclusivity at the forefront of 21 Degrees Digital?
As Zac feels that Black History Month is a time for reflection he has been taking the time to reflect on the decisions made as a business owner to encourage diversity. “We’re definitely not where I want us to be in regard to diversity but we have done some great work.” Zac completed an internal audit of the company to see how 21 Degrees Digital compares to other agencies within the industry and identify key areas for improvement.
Zac’s audit found that nationally only 7.2% of the marketing industry is made up of black employees, however at 21 Degrees this is 33%. Whilst we’re still a small agency Zac wants to ensure we continue to grow with diversity at the heart of what we do and create opportunities for young black marketeers and creatives.
Do you have any advice for black entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
When asked what advice he would give to black entrepreneurs who are just starting out Zac had two pieces of advice. The first; “Be proud and confident, don’t question yourself and don’t go into things thinking it’ll be tough because you’re black.” Zac believes it’s important to draw inspiration from those around you and there are an increasing number of black business people and black owned businesses.
Alongside this Zac also believes it’s important not to forget your roots and where you can help. You should aim for growth at a measured scale as it’s all well and good to say you’ll make a lot of change however things could go wrong that would restrict you from serving the purpose you wanted.