Art + Activism: A-LIST Students Develop Sustainable Social Impact Campaigns

Students in the fall 2020 A-LIST foundational course, “Rethinking the Marketplace,” partnered with nonprofit Sankofa on a project that provided real-world experience on using business as a force for good. Founded by artist and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, Sankofa connects grassroots organizations with artists like John Legend and Michael B. Jordan to incite positive change in marginalized communities.

Student teams were tasked with creating marketing plans for Sankofa based on its voting campaign. They conducted research to understand the wants, needs, motivations and norms of the communities they intended to serve, and developed a unique brand strategy that could self-sustain by generating revenue while making an impact. 

“The marketing plans leveraged existing voting momentum and turned that into more change, lasting change in marginalized communities addressing the needs that were identified,” said Julian Saint Clair, associate professor of marketing. 

At the end of the semester, the teams pitched their campaign ideas to Sankofa representatives Gina Belafonte, executive director; Erik Wissa, director of programs and operations; Maria Belafonte, head of social media; and Odessa Chiklis, social media coordinator.

One team targeted young Asian and Latinx voters, and another targeted out-of-state college students, demographics with historically low turnout. According to their research, low participation rates were partially due to confusion throughout the voting process. 

“Our mission was to ensure that everyone in the U.S. felt confident and empowered in their civic duty through access to unbiased and unfiltered information about politics, candidates, and the voting process,” said junior Oliva Le Penske.

Her team proposed creating an extension on Sankofa’s website to serve as a one-stop-shop for all things voting, enabling visitors to access educational modules and improve their ballot literacy. 

Another team focused on the top four issues that Sankofa addresses: systemic violence, mass incarceration, income disparity and immigration. Again, using their own research findings,  students identified ways to appeal to specific audiences with low political activism. 

“We want customers to know that their voice matters and that there is a creative community of individuals who have a similar goal in fighting for justice,” said junior Matt Herin.

The A-LIST x Sankofa projects made a lasting impression on the students. 

“My group learned so much about both election laws and our ballot that now we can’t imagine voting without this knowledge,” said recent graduate Natalie Garcia.“This project gave me a new outlook on voter suppression. I am now inspired to look for new ways to educate and make people feel more confident in their voting experience.” 

Herin is also grateful for the practical experience and personal growth he gained from the course. 

“Dr. Saint Clair’s ‘Rethinking the Marketplace’ class is the most rewarding course I have taken at LMU,” he said. “I left with a full comprehension of what goes into a successful 360-degree marketing campaign. Aside from the knowledge, I now have plenty of copywriting and mockup ad examples in my portfolio, which I send to recruiters. I was pushed to give my best effort and deliver my best work, and I feel like I got back what I put in.”

Written by Catherine Kennedy ’22