Meet the AMPED Creative Cohort: Intentional collaboration for the next gen of creators

AMPED Creative Cohort 2023

The interplay between confidence and creativity is an important relationship, yet not often discussed in depth. People are “brave” for creating and sharing their art, but how does one acquire such courage of expression? Like most things, it’s a muscle. And this muscle doesn’t live in a vacuum; engaging in community, getting the resources and support you need gives you a vote of confidence, and creates the momentum to keep going.

When it comes to design and creative careers, only 3 percent of professional designers identify as Black. As a community who invents and shapes culture and trends, that number is staggering. How to change that stat can start with visibility and resourcing, which was built into the DNA of the AMPED Creative Cohort, a groundbreaking collaboration between six HBCU students and graduates and Adobe.

AMPED is a movement and the journey of highlighting next-wave creators. It’s not just to showcase talent but to invite in multi-hyphenate creators and expand on telling various stories, and developing in-depth business concepts, impactful creative direction, and measurable strategy outcomes.

AMPED was developed to give unrepresented creatives the space to push the envelope and not only be seen . . . but heard and understood.

Allow us to introduce you

For Adobe MAX 2021, we leaned on a group of talented multi-disciplinarians to inspire our audience. Since then, and using MAX as a launching pad, they’ve each gone on to forge thriving creative careers. Their living, breathing vocations have taken shape in exciting ways within their individual communities and beyond. “It’s being a tangible asset that’s powerful,” Grant Bennett says, who worked as the executive producer for the project. “People in my community can pull up and see themselves in what we’re doing because we’re not some mythic figures. And so through Adobe, producing the project and being outside of the creative lens and more behind-the-scenes, shows different lanes for a lot of the kids in our communities of what’s possible.”

And this group is just getting started, which is why it’s a privilege to continue the collaboration and conversation with each of them, share their latest successes and projects in the creative, tech, and design realms, and ultimately talk about their experiences, their learnings, their missteps and how creativity is inextricably linked to the Black experience. Let’s get into it:

GRANT BENNETT | Fayetteville, NC | @benne_nc | Executive Producer, AMPED

Creative highlights include

Bennett has worked as a producer and consultant for the NFL, HBO Max, and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is also on the 2022 HBCU Buzz 30 Under 30 list. In recent years, his work has been highlighted by Forbes and former President Bill Clinton, and he was named the Morehouse representative for the 2021 Nike Yardrunner 2.0 campaign, as well as a part of the 2022 roster for Fayetteville Observer 40 Under 40 list. Currently, you can find him at Google as a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Strategist with a concentration in Analytics, Partnerships, and Storytelling.

Inspired by these days

“I find myself in a really nostalgic state. I spend a lot of time watching home videos, especially anything with my father in it.

I’ve been rediscovering old mixtapes, artists, and songs that inspired me while I was growing up. The first mixtape I ever downloaded was Wale's More About Nothing. I was introduced to some of my favorite artists through mixtapes like J. Cole, Joey Bada$$, Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller…music has been a gateway to inspiration my whole life.

I’ve also been deep diving into interviews and podcasts listening to some of my heroes such as Maverick Carter, Quincy Jones, Ibrahim Hamad, Derek Jeter, Jay-Z, Pharrell, and David Gross.

I’m inspired by the kids that I work with from my hometown through my nonprofit, The Two-Six Project.

At my best, I try to rediscover the purity and authenticity of where my life is now through those moments. Not to relive them, but more so to understand my past to create my future.“

“I never felt like I fit the mold of a traditional creative—in a world where everything felt so defined, I found comfort in connecting dots, bridging gaps, and building up my community, all through the lens of social impact.”

-Grant Bennett, Executive Producer of Amped

Julien + Justen Turner aka THE TURNER BROTHERS | Columbus, OH | @vsjulien_ + @v1justen

Creative highlights include

The director-brother-duo (they’re co-founders of Dreadhead Films) have earned a Webby Award for their Video Campaign titled “Free Lunch”, been named 2023 Forbes’ 30 under 30, have a TEDxMoorehouse College event, ‘Using filmmaking to find your super human gene’, and have partnered with Beats by Dre, Adidas, Amazon, and more.

Inspired these days

“Going down rabbit holes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, scene breakdowns, video essays, and easter egg YouTube videos. Lately, we've been super into anthology series such as Black Mirror, Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosity, Love, Death, + Robots, and Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone. Movie-wise, films this year like Everything Everywhere All At Once, Bones and All, and Nope encouraged us to think outside of the box within our own work.

With the recent reset of the DC Universe under the leadership of James Gunn, we've been refamiliarizing ourselves with the DC comic and animated universe — namely getting a dose of nostalgia through the Static Shock storylines.”

“With Adobe, it’s not just a tool or a program. They’re supporting the creator and us telling our stories, and in the art forms we’re passionate about telling them in.”

—Julien Turner

Kaci Merriwether-Hawkins | Dallas, Texas | @kacimerriwetherhawkins

Creative highlights include

A visual storyteller, creative director, and filmmaker, Merriwether-Hawkins’ short for Adobe MAX told her personal story of graduating with a degree in Veterinary Science from Tuskegee, and pivoting to launch her creative career. Since we first met, her craft has opened doors to working with brands such as Beats by Dre, Apple, Washington Post, New York Times, and more. Last summer, she launched Black Girls in Art Spaces, a collective with chapters that span the globe. It centers Black girls, womxn, and non-binary folks and offers digital and IRL meet-ups with the focus on self-discovery and community through artistic expression.

Inspired by these days

“Storytelling gives me the opportunity to protect: protect the softness, the realness, and the best [in] a person, specifically Black women.”

—Kaci Merriwether-Hawkins

Dorian Kirkwood | Washington D.C. | @kreammm

Creative highlights include

Since graduating from Howard University, Kirkwood went on to launch his 360 creative agency, Krown Media, with a client roster that includes household labels like McDonald’s, Meta, Air Jordans, Ace the Jeweler and Nike — the latter of which he’s been able to cross-collaborate with his alma mater and create campaigns for Yardrunners, Air Max, and Air Jordans. He was also named to the 2022 HBCU Buzz 30 Under 30 list.

His Adobe MAX short and mission at-large centers around inspiring and investing in Black creatives. Ultimately, providing opportunities and visibility to see what’s possible in a career in graphic design and digital media. This focus has led him to start These Kids Wear Krowns, a design-based youth program that teaches high school students how to use programs like Adobe Creative Cloud and beyond, to then harness their eye, skillset, and innate talent to influence the next generation style.

Inspired these days

“Working and existing in new spaces brings a new energy and unlocks frequencies that I can tap into for any creative project. I recently toured Europe (Iceland, Paris, London, Amsterdam) and all of the beautiful architecture, creative spaces, use of lines and light just refreshed my creativity. Even experiencing others' cultures brings a fresh perspective for dynamic thinking.

Another source of inspiration comes from books that pique my interest — right now that’s The History of Graphic Design. Vol.2. 1960-Today — Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artist; and Louis Vuitton: Virgil Abloh.”

“Ultimately, we know that exposure leads to expansion. As a creative, I understand the value of connectivity and bridging the gap for those in my community.”

—Dorian Kirkwood

Arial Robinson | Greensboro, NC | @im.arial

Creative highlights include

Set to graduate this spring from North Carolina Agricultural State and Tech University with a degree in multimedia journalism, Robinson is a multidisciplinary artist, photographer, author of two books — The Modern Day Black Alphabet and Black Hair Care in Color — co-creator of the creative directory, Da Souf Got Something To Say, and Editor-in-Chief of Soular World Magazine. An extension of her platform and interactive portfolio, she describes the magazine as: “Where creativity lives within no boundaries and authentic stories are the force behind each project, no matter the medium. Collaboration is invited and self consideration is encouraged. Black experiences are just as impactful as they are imaginative. A New World Laboratory.”

And as part of the third Yardrunners drop, she designed a pair of Nike Dunk Lows inspired by North Carolina A&T — which Kevin Durant sported in Nike’s Black History Month campaign.

Inspired these days

”I spend a lot of time getting inspired on Pinterest. Right now, it’s niche magazine spreads and layouts from all over the world or from a magazine that only existed five years in the ‘80s, fashion editorials, and Black southern culture from the ‘90s and Y2K.”

“It’s not out of reach. The stories that you’re experiencing are the ones filmmakers and directors wish they could tell. You don’t have to go out to find the story worth telling, and there is a place for everyone along the creative journey. ”

—Arial Robinson

Just like our creators, we’re just getting started

For more on our AMPED Creative Cohort, check out the video playlist, and watch this space for more from each of the creators as they get transparent and real about the ups and downs of creating content and launching a brand and business, building soft skills, impactful creative direction, and measurable strategic outcomes.