It’s the fourth month of our #tapculture blog series checking in with everyday heroes of diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and belonging. This isn’t the first time we’ve been humbled and inspired by Piotr Brozyna’s story—he was the recipient of the Jim and Nechie Hall Scholarship to Denver Ad School in 2020. We invite you to step into his shoes for a moment.
1. Let’s talk about you first. What’s your backstory?
I was born in a small town in Poland and spent the first five years of my life living in the countryside in a village called Blaszkow. As a young boy living in rural Poland, I was always swagged out in head-to-toe Chicago sportswear sent over by our American pioneer, my grandmother, who pursued opportunities overseas to help sustain my under-privileged family. After four years of inefficient trial and error, which truly highlights how fortunate we are to be living in the digital era, my family got the green light to migrate to the States legally in 1999, and we settled in Chicago, Illinois.
I spent over a decade conforming to American culture—never using the official spelling of my first name and crying every Saturday when my sister and I went to Polish School, where we stayed in touch with our roots and kept our heritage alive. I lived at home while attending DePaul University and take great pride in my achievement of being in the first generation to obtain this level of education in the Brozyna bloodline. After spending a few months in Cleveland, Ohio, pursuing my dream internship, I felt I had reached my maximum growth potential in the Midwest and set my sights on Denver, Colorado, where I had a small social circle of friends from college. I spent some time shifting through different careers (managing a retail store, conducting administrative tasks for an orthodontics clinic, supporting software at a tech company) and doing some soul searching until Vladimir Jones answered my prayers and offered me the resources to attend portfolio school.
2. You’re currently a student at Denver Ad School. How’s that going? What’s the most pivotal thing you’ve learned so far?
Denver Ad School is going fantastically. It truly feels like I am exactly where I want to be—academically, socially, and professionally—when I am interacting with my classmates and the industry professionals that share their wisdom with us. Although it can sometimes be difficult managing coursework and full-time employment, Denver Ad School proves to be extremely stimulating, challenging, rewarding and inspiring.
The most pivotal thing I’ve learned so far is that even something that seems like the best-looking or best-sounding creative execution is useless if there is not a big idea that backs it up. That term definitely got thrown around a lot in my first of five quarters here, and I am finally beginning to understand the complexity and depth of successful advertising campaigns in the real world—the thoughtful ones that people truly vibe with. If there is a large overarching idea, inspired by a relatable human truth that disrupts convention, then the public is more likely to understand it, remember it, support it, and eventually buy it, as explained by Denver Ad School cofounder Jesse Alkire.
3. The events of 2020 brought the topic of diversity into the forefront in a significant way. What do you think were our most significant cultural accomplishments on diversity in the last year? What did they mean to you personally?
Frankly, I believe that bringing the topic of diversity to the forefront should have been prioritized centuries ago, but there is no use trying to rewrite history. Furthermore, we mustn’t allow the misinformation our ancestors were shaped by to dictate our behaviors in the present. Therefore, it’s only fair to give credit to humanity when it is due, and 2020 was the first time in a long time that entire communities of people felt hope and optimism for the future.
Often, it is observed that people are a product of their environment. Respectfully, I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by like-minded individuals and organizations that share a sense of open-mindedness that has guided my conscience for years.
One of those organizations is the Denver Ad School, and another is Granicus, a software provider for local, state, and federal governments, where I work full-time as a support specialist. This company truly acknowledges, values, and respects the differences among its clients—and equally important—its employees. With a mission to bring governments and their citizens closer together, I believe we do a really solid job of upholding our values.
We are committed to recruiting diverse talent by reducing barriers in the hiring process and widening our recruitment presence, creating a sense of belonging in an environment that allows employees to work as their authentic selves without judgment, while growing and succeeding in a very fast-paced business sector and industry by providing all employees with equal access to growth opportunities. We also hired a diversity and inclusion consultant to help guide, advise, and strategize our efforts moving forward, as well as scheduled Racial Equity Training Modules, and launched employee resource groups for any and every demographic.
Finally, our community involvement highlights over $20,000 in total donations to Black Lives Matter, the Equal Justice Initiative, and the NAACP, as well as LGBTQI+ organizations. Creating a Mental Health Employee Resource Group, adding Headspace membership to our health benefits, and adding company holidays illustrates the genuine recognition of the mental health of our employees. I know thousands of other companies have similar approaches to a global problem that is finally being addressed, and I hope even more adopt such initiatives.
This topic strikes a personal chord with me as I fall into a few minority groups as well, and find solace in the idea that businesses are realizing the value in diverse viewpoints among their employees. I am a first-generation Polish immigrant who grew up in one of the largest metropolitan areas in America. Furthermore, I identify as pansexual and have deep roots within the LGBTQI+ community. Being bilingual has objectively widened my experience and I know that this can bring a fresh worldview to any project I’m involved in, so it truly warms my heart that these types of values are prioritized on such a large scale.
4. And what do you think are the most pressing problems that we still need to address with respect to diversity and inclusion?
I believe that some of the events that occurred in 2020 that seemed beyond human control could have been avoided if there was more of a group mentality—a team effort, a commitment absent of any selfish desires and motives. It is extremely difficult to pinpoint the moments when society failed, where we went wrong. Despite humanity’s efforts toward a world in which every human is viewed equally, we’ve still got an astronomical amount of work to do. The fact that only 21 of our 50 states have statutes that protect against both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination is unbelievable. The fact that in my own motherland of Poland, nearly 100 municipalities adopted resolutions that have led them to be called “LGBT ideology-free zones” and are unwelcoming of an entire community of their own people, is simply beyond me. With a conflicting patriotic identity to my Polish roots led by a notoriously homophobic president, paired with my own ties to the LGBTQI+ community, I believe I am completely capable of rationalizing multiple sides of every story. However, I do have to draw a line when I believe our fellow humans are being mistreated and when assumptions are made simply based on the color of their skin, their religion (or lack thereof), their gender, how they choose to express it, and whom they love. Therefore, I recognize the importance of these efforts in the professional workplace.
5. What role does advertising play in tackling these issues? Feel free to answer that question from the perspective of a creative, brand, media company … or do all three!
Advertising plays a crucial role in the way that certain issues are presented to the public, and consequently, has the power to influence consumers into behaving certain ways. These behaviors range from calm responses to triggered reactions and can have a ripple effect on entire communities of people. As a student paving his way into the advertising industry, I am becoming well aware of the influential power I aspire to have one day, and plan on using my best judgment to apply this power for the greater good of humanity and this planet. 2020 has been one of the most dividing years recorded in history, and I know that advertising played a significant part in that. However, this industry has the power to reverse those mistakes, break down those walls, and build bridges between communities instead. I am extremely humbled to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the communications multiverse that has become so influential in the last few decades.
6. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Be kind to each other. Let’s make this planet a better place for our children and their children to settle down on, because we haven’t got too many other options at the moment. Let’s build bridges, not walls.
Vladimir Jones is Colorado’s original independent, integrated advertising agency, with offices in Denver and Colorado Springs. We believe in brilliant brands and love making the world love them as much as we do.