Copywriter's Poem Captures the Heartbreak of Being Black in America Today

Somber words from BSSP's Zack Browne

It doesn't matter. Of course it does.

Working with friends and agency colleagues, Butler Shine Stern & Partners senior copywriter Zack Browne turned "It Doesn't Matter," a poem he wrote in the wake of George Floyd's murder, into a simple, stirring two-minute film.

The text deals with the injustice Black Americans face every day. It begins:

Why?
Because it doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter who am I.
Where I'm from.
What I do.
Or what I've done.
It doesn't matter how I was raised.
What I wear.
Who I'm with.
Or who looks up to me.

You might recognize the faces that flash on screen. Sadly, we've seen them all too often in recent years, in a seemingly endless stream of news coverage about Black Americans meeting violent ends before their time:

IT DOESN'T MATTER

Remember their names: Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Samuel Dubose, William Chapman II, Jeremy McDole, Jamar Clark, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, John Crawford III, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd.

The poem continues:

It doesn't matter if I'm successful.
If I have dreams.
What my plans are.
Where I'm going.
It doesn't matter who I know.
What I have.
What I'm thinking.
Or where I go.
It doesn't matter how 'good' of a person I am or try to be.

Browne wrote the piece shortly after Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old Black man, died on Memorial Day while in Minneapolis Police custody, his face pinned to the pavement for nearly nine minutes by a cop's knee.

He worked with BSSP art director Alfonso Ruiz and editor Carlos Crooks, among others, to make the video.

"The words alone were very well received, so we didn't want to overcomplicate the film and distract from the message," Browne tells Muse. "Although commonly used, we thought white type on a black background was the most powerful way to display the words. The images serve as a reminder of who we've lost and what is happening because of it. We went with multiple voices over just one because these feelings are shared. It's not just my POV, it's ours—the Black community."

For those voices, Browne "reached out to old friends," he says. "All are Black, all from various parts of the country, and all just as frustrated as I am. I asked them to read the poem in a way that felt natural to them and record it on their cell phone. We didn't want the piece to sound too polished or over-acted; we wanted it to be real and honest."

Indeed, they sound natural and unrehearsed. It's as if they've seen and lived it all before. Which, of course, they have.

Their recitation concludes:

As a black person in America,
I'm just one false accusation,
one wrong place, one wrong time,
one cop or Karen having a bad day,
away from being abused,
locked up
or murdered.
That's the paranoia I fear I may never shake.
That's why
It doesn't matter.
Black lives matter.

Visuals include Isiah Rustad's protest photos, which Browne discovered on Instagram, and footage supplied by director and photographer Luis Pena. APM Music donated the soundtrack.

"As an advertising writer, I've created films before for clients, but never a passion project with so much meaning and purpose," Browne says. "I found out about George Floyd's death on social media. Shaun King shared the video and it hit deep. To see a gang of cops heinously ending this man's life, knowing they're being recorded and not caring, was disgusting, to say the least, but unfortunately not surprising. Honestly, I didn't know what to do in the moment, but as a creative, we create when things get tough."

Last Friday, Browne dropped the film on his Instagram channel, Vimeo and YouTube. "In doing so," he says, "I was hoping to give viewers a peek inside the mind of a Black person in America. I wanted them to realize what we go through every day and understand how unfair and hard it is."

So far, the video has earned almost 16,000 views on his IG, with shares from celebrities and influencers such as Ayesha Curry and Jen Atkin.

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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