You may be old enough to remember Afro Sheen, the hair product that showed black Americans in the 1960s and ’70s how they could have a beautiful appearance by enhancing their Afro hair style.
Braelyn Hall, 14, is too young to remember when Afro Sheen hit the market, but she’s learned much about advertising. Her project, “The Power of Black Advertising,” is representing Illinois in the National History Day Competition.
Hall, who just graduated from Morgan Park Academy, is one of two Illinois students entered into the junior division — individual exhibit category after winning in regional and state competition. Due to the pandemic, the national judging is being done virtually in June.
Hall’s parents, Michael Hall and Lavelle Smith Hall of Flossmoor, both worked at the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency.
“They influenced how I see advertising and the importance of advertising in my life,” Braelyn said.
Doing research helped her understand how advertising has changed the perception of the African American population from persons on the lower strata with little education to today’s image of living regular lives and playing important roles.
“The most important thing I learned is the impact, just how big of a role advertising played in the perception of black people in America,” Braelyn said.
In her project, Braelyn gives credit to Tom Burrell, who founded the first black advertising agency in 1971, and the great influence he had in convincing advertisers that blacks deserved their own recognition within the American culture.
“The big transformation, I think, was how we can go from being people who aren’t even seen and don’t even get a glance to people who are important and seen in the consumer market,” Braelyn said.
Those early advertisements, like Afro Sheen, were the first steps bringing black actors and actresses into advertising, she points out.
But it was really the 1990s “when hip-hop was really important that things were seen in black culture, and becoming more mainstream: the music, the dancing, fashion,” she said.
Braelyn will be a freshman at Marian Catholic High School this fall. She hopes to pursue a career in writing.