Icon (Close Menu)


Laughing With ‘Black-ish,’ LR Ad Man Myron Jackson Sees Himself

4 min read

When the sitcom “Black-ish” first appeared on ABC in 2014, some Little Rock viewers saw something familiar in the main character, Andre Johnson.

They saw Myron Jackson.

“My friends said that was me, that I’m Dre,” said Jackson, CEO of The Design Group downtown.

Played by Anthony Anderson, Dre is a young, successful black ad man who grew up poor. Now comfortable, he struggles with staying true to his roots while raising a family in a far whiter, more affluent world.

“I’m a huge fan of the show,” Jackson said last month in a wide-ranging interview in the Design Group’s glittering 18th-floor offices in the Regions Center. “I grew up in humble beginnings in east Little Rock; I didn’t know any ad guys. I was just a kid who loved to write, loved to read, loved to draw. Since then I’ve gone on to have a very successful career.”

The Design Group, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, now has more than a dozen employees and some $5 million a year in billings. It has been recognized by the Little Rock Regional Chamber as one of the city’s top minority-owned businesses, and Jackson gives the lion’s share of the credit to his team.

The agency was also featured this month in Arkansas Business’ issue spotlighting minority-owned and woman-owned businesses, but there was much more to Jackson’s personal story than would fit in that article.

“The place where I grew up has gone the way of the dinosaur,” he said. “We had a whole lot of everything but money. My father was incarcerated, has been incarcerated all my life. We had a lot of love, a lot of crime, a whole lot of all that, but the only folk that I saw that had money were drug dealers, pimps or some sort of what we defined as hustlers.

“You can’t forget your origins,” he continued. “And we’ve all heard that ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ But when you become a successful person of color, you have to give back.”

The theme is a constant of “Black-ish,” which opens its fourth season Oct. 3. The comedy often examines what Slate’s Aisha Harris called the paradox of heading “an upper-middle-class black family in a so-called ‘post-racial’ society.”

“We laugh all the time because some of the things that Dre deals with I have to deal with,” Jackson said. “I’ve got two children who didn’t grow up the way I grew up — they have luxuries that I never had. They have cousins in communities who don’t live the way they live. So there’s this huge parallel, but one thing remains true: I understand the plight of a black man in America.”

That reality drives Jackson personally and in business. “No matter how much I attain, I face a glass ceiling as a black man.”

At the mention of Barack Obama, Jackson digs in. “Yes, he was the first black president, but for many in this country he will never be anything more than a black man. And they are frustrated, sickened by the idea that a black man was able to ascend to those heights.”

Jackson said he struggles against entrenched thinking in promoting multicultural marketing. “No company should ignore the Hispanic consumer today,” he said. “That segment is outpacing every other population. The African-American community over-consumes branded goods when compared with white and Hispanic counterparts, so if you sell branded or luxury goods, the African-American consumer is ideal.”

Despite the logic of Jackson’s “total market” appeals, he doesn’t always conquer the boardroom. “Many executives will nod and say it makes sense, but they won’t commit to multiculturalism. It’s quite funny to me, because even if you’re just going to be a selfish capitalist, there’s gold in them black and brown hills.”

No group is monolithic, Jackson says. And while he rubs shoulders with the elite, he also encounters childhood friends haunted by criminal records or drug addiction. Other neighborhood buddies are long dead, some murdered.

He recalls the unease he felt, sitting in his best suit as the CEO of his own company, when he realized that the man emptying his office trash was a childhood hero. The man had been in prison and was easing back into the job market.

“I could have been just like those guys, but they didn’t have the one thing I had: a grandmother who was insanely committed to ensuring that her grandchildren wouldn’t become casualties” of growing up in a risky place, Jackson said.

Though his family had little money, Jackson was rich in books. “My grandmother made sure we knew who Langston Hughes was, that we knew Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston. She made sure we realized that even though we were from east Little Rock, there was a big old world outside of the East End.”

Send this to a friend