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Faces of NPR HBCU Edition: Anaïs Laurent

Faces of NPR: HBCU Edition
Sommer Hill
Faces of NPR: HBCU Edition

Faces Of NPR showcases the people behind NPR--from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This month is special, we are featuring HBCU alum at NPR for Black History Month starting with Anaïs Laurent, Senior Marketing Manager.

The Basics:

Name: Anaïs Laurent

Instagram Handle: @Anais_Laurent

Job Title: Senior Marketing Manager

You know, I've got to plug Howard in here. How did going to Howard/an HBCU prepare you for the real world and for NPR?

It's important to know who you are in order to know where you're going. I try to tap into my ancestors to guide, inspire and motivate me, especially when I'm feeling down. At Howard, there is a hustle mentality coupled with Black excellence and Black diversity. Students come from all over the United States and the world, a total immersion in the concept of global citizenship. I think that experience has been so important to my work at NPR, because it helped me truly understand what diversity looks and feels like in this country and the world. It helped me navigate my identity as a first-generation person of color. So owning my identity and my cultural values informs everything I do. Howard instills this excellence in you, this sense of pride and honor, so that when you do walk into a room and you are the only person of color, yeah, it may be tough sometimes to represent, but it makes you remember like, "Yo, your ancestors have your back, you are a reflection of their struggles and aspirations." So it's a nice reminder to keep your head up high and own your voice at any given moment.

So when all that controversy was happening at Howard because of how they've treated the students, how did you feel about the legacy?

I can relate to it. You know, I experienced it. I graduated in 2014, and I would see the disparities when I'd go to my friend's campuses that are predominantly white institutions (PWI). I would see their nice dorms and the resources that they were given, how easy it was for them to get a response from faculty or the financial office. So these problems have been a recurring theme for generations and it needs to change. It shouldn't be a thing where it's like, because you go to Howard, you know how to be resourceful and how to finesse because the system has been broken. So I definitely hear them. I'm with them. They are preparing the top talent at HBCUs so they need to be given the same resources, the same investments as a PWI if they really want to stay competitive. We have some issues we got to get real about.

Once we solve those issues, it's going to be unbeatable because we produce such excellence but once we have the resources and capital too, it will be unmatched.

And to your point, the Bison network is crazy. We are everywhere, globally. Being a Bison means that you're going to be solid and show up with excellence.

Which is why you pulled my resumé. So shout out to you.

As an Afro-Latina, do you feel like you have a place at NPR and that there's room for you?

It's funny because I've always kind of felt like an outcast. I studied fashion merchandising, I've always been a very artsy, into-fashion, weird-music kid, so I never felt like I fully fit in anywhere. Being Venezuelan Haitian American, I grew up super close to my Venezuelan side, I grew up speaking Spanish yet I was immersed in Haitian history, art, music and food as well. However, I constantly found myself explaining how I could be both. So I'm used to coming into spaces and kind of saying, "Hey, we're here," and I want to essentially create more spaces for people that look like me, spaces that truly reflect the diversity of the world. Which is my motivating force. I think in order to really create change, I'd rather be in a space where there aren't a lot of people like me, so I can change that. It's definitely hard when you're one of the few people of color, but I want to be what I wasn't able to see. I want to make that more of a reality with a clear path for people that are going to be coming into NPR. I'm looking at the Bobbys (Bobby Carter), the Felixes (Felix Contreras), the Isas (Isabel Lara), all of them who have been like, "Hey, like there may not be a lot of people like me in the room, but our voice is just as valuable if NPR wants to sustain and grow."

That's what really motivates and keeps me here. I know that by owning our experiences, we are an asset to this company because we're trying to reach an audience that looks like us. We need diversity at every level of the organization, coupled with staff development and opportunities for growth.

There's no doubt that you are super talented and creative. What does your creative process look like?

I am constantly observing and absorbing, which means I have to prioritize self-care and be mindful of how I curate my surroundings. Knowing when to rest, turning off social media and being aware of how certain things make me feel. If you're scrolling on your timeline and you're feeling even more depleted, reflect on who you are following and why. I love to dive into different documentaries and try to get a sense from a very raw perspective of what's going on in the world. Of course, reading, and then keeping a solid peer-to-peer network of people who push me to think differently feeds my creativity. I've run ideas by people and said, "Hey, poke holes at this, how can I make this better? What do you think someone's going to challenge? How can I come in and reassure someone that, no, this is going to work?"

Also, just my people. Black people in general, we are mad inspiring. I'm looking at people like Issa Rae who are disrupting and being unapologetically them. They're not following this linear path or "code" that you're supposed to follow, and look at how they're glowing up by staying true to themselves. So I think looking at that and realizing you can do it in your own way and stay true to your creativity is completely refreshing.

And creativity is so underrated. To your point, it's in everything that you do. I studied Fashion Merchandising and people always ask me, how did you get into marketing? How did you get into publicity? But fashion is literally making someone feel something. How do I make someone feel a certain way to then take action? Which is again, such an integral part of marketing.

Photographer Bradley Ogbonna, Host, Jay Williams and Anaïs Laurent at photoshoot in NYC
Photographer Bradley Ogbonna, Host, Jay Williams and Anaïs Laurent at photoshoot in NYC

You recently helped launch The Limits with Jay Williams. Tell me how your first launch went in this new role.

It was great! Once it was out into the world it was surreal because we've been working on this behind the scenes for months. What was really important for me was to develop a relationship with Jay and really understand, what does he want people to get out of this podcast, what does he really care about? And I think as a marketer, it's important to fully understand the DNA of what you're working on, because you have to believe in it. You're representing it. So it was great to be able to be on set for the shoot, meet him in person and talk to him about what his hopes are in terms of redefining what a podcast sounds like at NPR.

It's really cool to see all his guests reposting and showing love on social. It's been a great domino effect and he's having very important conversations that people may not always necessarily feel comfortable talking about publicly, but should.

Do you think in order for you to be successful in this role, you have to believe in the success of the podcast?

Absolutely. It shows when you don't have that spark or that fire in believing in something. You have to believe in what you're marketing or publicizing. And that's what's so special about NPR, I've really been able to marry my love for culture, music and identity in so many different mediums from podcasts, events to social media content. And again, it helps when you share the lived experiences with these guests because you get it and they can relate to you. They can trust you to package their content in a way that's going to be authentic.

When you have a vision, how do you ensure you see your vision through to the end?

I think being creative allows you to have a lot of different ideas, so it's easy to pivot. If you kill one idea, best believe I have 100 other ideas that are going to come through. I also think relationships are pivotal to successfully getting your ideas off the ground, because you need to know how to communicate your ideas and get people on board to execute them. If they aren't sold right away, how can you find a way to meet them in the middle to eventually get them to take that edgier route?

My colleagues at NPR know I take pride in questioning things. I want to know, how is this moving the needle towards reaching young and diverse audiences? We shouldn't be complacent with the fact that we've reached a couple, when we know there's so much potential and opportunity to do more. The way we can accomplish that is by being innovative, testing new ideas and by being proactive instead of reactive to what's going on in culture. To connect the dots you have to bring the right people together so that there's diversity in thought and everyone feels invested in the vision. It's not just solely yours.

Anaïs Laurent
Angel Montalvo / NPR
Anaïs Laurent

What areas do you think that NPR has helped you grow and develop, or what skills has NPR shown you that you have?

In so many ways. Moments like Felix giving me a chance to lend my voice on Alt.Latino to discuss Afro-Latino identity to spearheading some of our first influencer campaigns.

By thinking outside of what a typical publicist or marketer is, I've been able to gain the trust of various departments to, in the words of Jay Williams, 'push the limits' of what can be accomplished. NPR has been very open to looking at new ways for us to do things. Alt.Latino's Hispanic Heritage Month El Tinywas huge. The Black History Month x Tiny Desk Concert programming...epic.

I've also grown in the sense that I started here as a publicist, I was promoted to senior publicist and then jumped to the marketing team. To be honest, I haven't stayed anywhere this long and I'm coming up on my third year. So I think that says a lot and shows that NPR recognizes employees that are invested in the organization.

I'd also say don't be complacent. Keep pushing, think outside of the typical scope of your role so that you can show that you have a variety of skills needed to reach our north star.

So what is the best advice you have ever received?

Guy Raz had a mentoring session that I signed up for in 2019 and I was like, it's the Guy Raz. There was so much I wanted to learn from him. And he told me, sometimes people aren't going to understand the vision or have the foresight to take risks on something before it's considered safe, never let that discourage you. To really make sure that we're cutting edge and being leaders in this space, sometimes you have to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

So I tread lightly with that, but it's helped me dream big and not be confined to how we've done things in the past. Experimenting and innovating will be key for NPR to move forward. Guy's advice has really resonated with me throughout my entire journey at NPR.

Do you remember the moment when you decided to trust your creativity?

I would say in high school when I started a fashion club with some friends, which then led to me being super active in the DC creative scene. Back in the day I was on set for a shoot and typically, when you're going to model, people wear all black and keep it super minimal because you're going to change into clothes anyway. But I came in really loud in the way that I typically dressed. And there was a photographer there who worked at Women's Wear Daily, me and her just hit it off, like strictly off vibes and energy. And she was like, "Hey, you're super talented, I want to help get you to Women's Wear Daily." She was the one who really connected the dots and helped me get an internship there that led to freelance work there.

I tell that story because every time that I've trusted my inner voice and gut, it's never really led me wrong. That is your biggest asset. That's your competitive edge. No one can get into your brain and know what you're going to plot next. By bringing your entire self to the table, that's how you're able to shift the status quo. So I don't know if there is necessarily a moment, but I definitely feel like there've been various times in my life where I'm glad that I stuck to what feels right to me.

Anaïs Laurent rocking El Tiny with her pooch, Fez.
Angel Montalvo / NPR
Anaïs Laurent rocking El Tiny with her pooch, Fez.

You mentioned how important mentorship is and sponsorships. So can you speak to the mentorship that you have had and how it has impacted your career?

I'll start with my parents. Both of my parents are immigrants to this country. My dad is from Haiti and my mom is from Venezuela, and they both completely defied the trajectory of what they should have been or what people had labeled that they would amount to. My dad is a business owner and my mom is the first, and so far only, Latina elected to the Montgomery County (Maryland) Council. So I hear from them all the time, what it's like to be "othered," but to always show up with excellence and purpose. They continuously encourage me to disrupt and occupy spaces to create change. I saw that very early on.

And then I would say at NPR, having people like Felix Contreras, Bobby Carter, Isabel Lara, Abby O'Neill, Kristin Hume and even my peers within my own department, like you, Alex Reade, Yanius Alvarado Matos, to just decompress mentally and brainstorm with is essential. You need that to really bring out your best self. Seeing others pave the way for people like us to then be a bit louder and push the button just a little bit more, all so that those that come up next can take it even further.

Then looking at people in the marketing world like Bozoma St. John, she's someone that I look up to even though I don't know her personally, but just watching her moves has been inspiring. We can't forget the internet, which has so much free game- shout out to YouTube University! So I think it's a combination of all that. I don't necessarily feel like I have one mentor. I feel like it's everything that I expose myself to, from my Instagram feed to who I surround myself with. I try to stay mindful of how these things collectively feed my curiosity, fulfill me and help me manifest what I want next.

The last thing I will add is to not let anyone tell you that you don't belong or you're not capable. Because the totality of your lived experiences will always be your unique strength. So fight for what you want and if you don't see it, create it.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anaïs Laurent at Latin Billboard Week
Angel Montalvo / NPR
Anaïs Laurent at Latin Billboard Week

Sommer Hill (she/her) is a social media associate for NPR Extra. She started with NPR in May 2021. Her primary responsibilities include managing the social media accounts for NPR Extra as well as creating blog posts for NPR.org. In her time at NPR, Hill has worked on many projects including the Tiny Desk Contest, the How I Built This Summit, creating a resource page for Juneteenth material, participating in the 'What Juneteenth Means To Me' video and contributing to WOC/POC meetings.