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Valerie Graves on "Pressure Makes Diamonds..."

Back in the mid-nineties, a corporate client paid me what he thought was a compliment:

“Come on now, you’re not really black. You’re a big-time ad executive.”

Pressure Makes Diamonds is a book’s worth of what that client didn’t know about me, and what it means to be “really” black in my industry and country. Like many African Americans of the late-twentieth and early- twenty-first centuries, I struggled with well-known societal ills. I was no stranger to the broken home, the absent father, and the gnawing presence of economic lack. Despite above-average intelligence, I did not escape teenage motherhood and watched my brilliant brother lose his future to incarceration. I dropped out of college and was sometimes my own rebellious worst enemy. But, like many who succeed against bad odds, I was buoyed by a dream and the expectation that I would have a future that no one in my world had known. Yet, Pressure Makes Diamonds is not meant to be another up-by-the-bootstraps saga.

Armed with dreams, will, and a bit of luck, I fought and schemed my way into the white-male-dominated world of major league advertising and set my sights on its upper echelons. Once there, I discovered that my challenging life had given me a unique advantage in an increasingly multicultural world. My struggles had not just made me strong, they had given me an enduring connection to the collective black consciousness and deep insight to what makes us want what we want and love what we love. Being “really” black was what elevated me from fast-track creative to industry leader. I had not moved past being black; blackness had propelled me to achievement and become my unique X factor.

I wrote Pressure Makes Diamonds to tell the story of the circumstances, dreams, and people that allowed me to be “really” black and successful at the same time. That long-ago “compliment” had been based on the assumption that being black is something to be transcended. My book is about the transcendent imperative of being a black woman.

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