For Stacy Milner, the founder of the Entertainment Industry College Outreach Program, the news of the Supreme Court overturning affirmative action in college admissions hit different.
Milner, a veteran with 30 years of working in and placing top staff in C-Suites across Hollywood, saw up the roadblocks of placing Black college graduates at entry level careers in entertainment. She created EICOP to engage with industry stakeholders who are committed to shaping a more inclusive global workforce. Shortly after, she launched their strategic initiative, HBCU in L.A., which places HBCU students in coveted internships throughout the entertainment sector. However, Milner calls the Supreme Court’s ruling a “wake-up call.”
“Today’s ruling is a wake-up call and will most likely curtail broader efforts in the fight for equality for students of color when it comes to education and career opportunities. I believe it makes the work EICOP/HBCU IN LA does even more relevant than ever before,” says Milner. “I am reminded of Dr. King’s 1968 address dedicated to ‘Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution’ where he shared similar mantras of today’s young social justice leaders urging us to “stay woke” when he said: ‘one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.’”
Milner continues: “We have the awesome privilege to continue his legacy and unwavering and fearless fight for educational and economic justice.”
Her dedication in making Hollywood more inclusive from the ground up came while Milner was on tour promoting her book, Leveraging Up! The Key to Launching Your Entertainment Career. “It was not until I ended up on the campus of HBCUs that I said, ‘Oh my God, there is such a disconnect between industry and our institutions,’ but yet Hollywood is saying that they want to hire people who are reflective of the community in which they serve.”
A fire lit under Milner, and she founded the EICOP in 2010. Although she did not attend an HBCU, she recognized two fundamental barriers that kept those students out of reach. “Geographically, HBCUs are not in the industry’s backyard. So how are you ever going to create that pipeline? Because they’re not the NYUs or the UCLAs of the world that have satellite programs,” she says. “Secondly, you got students coming from typically low wealth households. So even if you offer them an internship, they can never afford to take it and live in LA for a summer. Therefore, there’s the bottleneck.”
EICOP’s signature program HBCU in L.A. provides an immersive 10-week experience in internships and programming at major studios and networks, as well as agencies such as Creative Artists Agency. They host a Hollywood Summit featuring seminars, panels and screenings. Last month, they held a three-day conference, a who’s who of senior Black entertainment talent to share ideas, advice and most importantly, opportunities. Sponsors included United Talent Agency, NBC Universal and AEG Worldwide.
“A big five-year goal for me is for HBCU in L.A. to become a line item, [which says that] every year they’re making their commitment and the commitments go up because they’re seeing the quality,” says Milner. “The other part is to really grow our Emerging Talent Network. It’s an online mentorship platform where our HBCU in LA alumni meets LinkedIn—with a lot more bells and whistles. They can create a profile, they can meet industry professionals on that platform. There will be jobs, there’s evergreen learning modules. It’s really about expanding the reach, opportunity, having an anchor to continue to help us do this work.”
Milner has even bigger dreams for the students that come through HBCU in LA: “With the work that we do with this program — particularly the film stuff — with these are content creators. I see us at some point having a first look deal with somebody.”
Proud HBCU in L.A. alum Jon Kee is now a literary manager at Circle of Confusion, the management company home to William Defoe, Chloë Sevigny, Ana Gasteyer and Sarah Polley. He graduated from Houston-Tillotson University, a lesser known HBCU. But Kee clarifies that his alma mater, “is actually the oldest school of higher education in the city of Austin, and it is the furthest HBCU to the West Coast.” But it was a random Google search of internships that led him to HBCU in L.A. program. “If it were not for HBCU in L.A., I can guarantee that I will not be sitting here today.”
Kee’s first year he interned at United Talent Agency, who would extend his internship twice. His project, a rotational internship with SAG-AFTRA. After graduation, both of Kee’s former internships offered him positions. He was able to work for both. Looking back and ahead, Kee has this to say about company DEI efforts. “Before HBCU in L.A.’s [program], I don’t really know if there was a genuine pipeline because even seeing it now, post George Floyd and on the backend of 2020, that call for diversity has dwindled.”
Whether or not Hollywood makes good on their diversity initiatives, Kee is passionate about ensuring Black writers have a seat at the table, as he’s seen it up close how many creatives signed to talent agencies in 2020 are now—pre the WGA strike— struggling for opportunities. “Three years later, writers are being hurt, because they can’t go on in their careers, and they’re not able to do what they need to do because their manager doesn’t have the passion to help them develop into what they need to develop into.” But for Kee this is what makes HBCU in L.A. so impactful because it puts diversity in the room. “In my experience, I’ve seen HBCU in L.A. as credit that pipeline, because a lot of people that I interned with are now in the industry.”
Kee’s second source of fortitude comes from his HBCU network. “I lean on the people that I know in Hollywood that are from HBCUs, as well, like my alumni network from HBCU in L.A., those are my best friends. Those are people that I go to when I have ideas. And those are people I’m excited to grow with a career in industry. My alumni network from HBCUs within Hollywood is what keeps you going.”
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