Jay Hall is living the immigrant child’s dream. Thriving in an expensive city while working as a young professional within one of New Zealand’s largest independent advertising agencies, Stanley St.
He is one of many excellent, young and Black creatives living and working in Auckland central. Before becoming a creative professional he made sure he had life security and became a qualified osteopathic doctor.
The eldest son in a family of working class roots, he is of Jamaican/Cuban and English/Irish heritage. He tells me his parents are the first generation from both sides of his family to finish high school and go to university, “Giving their upbringing, this is no small feat”, he says.
These days he keeps strong memories of growing up in south London before moving to Essex. When he was 17, his family immigrated to New Zealand for a better life and to pursue his and his sister’s basketball ambitions.
Earlier this year he released a video series called Richer With Me. It featured prominent Aucklanders from the local Black community like Ronald LaPread who played bass guitar in the Commodores, scholar Guled Mire and rapper Jess B.
Hall says producing the project was fuelled by his personal experience and frustration at humanity, but ultimately Richer With Me came about off the back of the Christchurch terror attacks and Black Lives Matter movement in response to the murder of George Floyd.
“Seeing what my parents have achieved with such humble beginnings has helped shape who I am today,” he said.
“Seeing my friends go in and out of prison, deal drugs and have babies at 15, provoked a strong desire internally to help others. I think this is what lead me to go to university and study to become a primary healthcare professional, I want to help people,” he said.
“Here in New Zealand we live in a superficial society. I have observed a bandwagon mentality, pseudo-wokeness, and a lot of lost individuals. I want to shed light on the issues that really matter and tell stories that provoke deeper thought and reflection.
“We often lean on past progressive moments, such as being the first country to give women the vote and having multiple female prime ministers, which somewhat overshadows the fact that in a lot of areas, we have plateaued,” Hall said.
In the first instalment of “Richer With Me”, Soraya LaPread said when asked why is New Zealand richer with her in it: “I feel like that’s something we need to ask everyone else.
“Equality is something that people that look like me don’t get to have,” she said.
“We make New Zealand think wider than they’re used to,” said Dr Camile Nakhid, an Associate Professor at Auckland University of Technology who was also featured in the series.
Wearing his creative director hat and doing his part to help define what it means to be young and Black in Auckland today, Hall has managed to weave his passion for social justice into his career.
Working as a creative and director of photography at Culture – part of the global advertising agency Stanley St, Richer With Me was made with his creative partner, Angie Fredatovich.
Ongoing content will include other key communities, “including the LGBQT, Māori, Pasifika and Muslim communities”, he said.
“It’s important to me that there is no bias, no script or editing. It needs to be a raw, honest insight into each of these communities and we need to be mindful of avoiding the stereotypes depicted by mainstream media,” Hall said.
“The Black and, Māori community, also let us know they wanted to be represented beyond just athletes or musicians just like the Black community, which tends to be traditional media’s narrative.”
Falling into the identity-stereotypes of what Black people “should be” is something Hall himself identifies with after living and working in New Zealand since high school. “I often see other cultures here in New Zealand embrace a manufactured ‘Black persona’ at the expense of their own beautiful and rich cultures, this is so frustrating as an actual Black man seeing people discard their own cultures at the expense of something that was created in America by marketing executives to ultimately make money.
“As a descendent of slavery it’s near impossible to find out where I’m from pre-slavery, there is so much of my ancestry that’s lost through no fault of our own, yet I see people who have a tangible grip on their own culture discard it for something that’s not theirs, and is manufactured. This un-educated perceived “Black culture” doesn’t represent anything outside of African American popular culture and is not a representation of actual Black culture.
“I’ve had patients say to me, you’re really nice for a Black guy.” But, he’s also had other stereotypes placed on him by loved ones, in quite violent ways. He opens up and says he had a girlfriend once who was both physically and emotionally abusive. Years later, he is still dealing with traumas from arguments that went as personal as being told he was “not that Black”.
“She was a madness, she did Hip-Hop dancing and hung with a lot of culturally confused Māori and Pasifika guys and thought that gave her the right to tell me how Black I was or in many instances how Black I wasn’t.”
“Like what the hell does that mean?” He jokes about it now, kind of.
Jay said things got so bad at one point, he began questioning his own cultural identity. At times he said it really broke him, given that he was living in a country far from where he grew up, without people from his cultural background.
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