Why cryptic billboards popped up in Michigan and Minnesota

The campaign’s founder revealed why he was inspired by George Floyd’s death.

Campaign: AmerICantBreathe
Company: AmerICantBreathe.org
Duration: June - July 2020 

Cryptic billboards started popping up in various cities showcasing nothing but a website: AmerICantBreathe.org. It was to promote the launch of an initiative and nonprofit that raises money for Black-led businesses and nonprofits. 

In May, George Floyd died while being detained by Minneapolis police officers. His death was captured on video. Like many Americans, Jeff Lambert, CEO of the PR agency Lambert, was overcome with grief and the sense he needed to do something. From conversations he had with friends and co-workers, Lambert came to believe the most effective strategy for him, as a white executive, was to use his network to raise money for Black-led nonprofits and organizations serving the Black community. 

In June, he founded AmerICantBreathe.org, a nonprofit dedicated to doing just that. To raise awareness, Lambert took out a series of four billboards — two in Detroit, one in Grand Rapids and one in Minneapolis — with AmerICantBreathe.org. 

At first, he didn’t reveal much information about the initiative or that he was behind it.

“I didn’t want it to be about me; I wanted it to be about the impact we were going to achieve,” he said.

The anonymity, however, led to some wariness from the Black community; local Black leaders wanted to know who was behind the campaign, what its goals were and whether Black voices would be involved — or sidelined.

In early August, Lambert revealed he was behind the campaign via a feature in the Michigan Chronicle. He’s since rolled out further details about the campaign, such as that all donations will go to Black organizations nominated by the public and selected by a Black-led advisory board, overseen by Tonya Allen, CEO and president of the Skillman Foundation. 

“I’ve heard from a lot of PR executives who are encouraging,” Lambert said. “I would love to invite them to take this campaign into their community and their organization.”

Some ways they can do that is by writing a check or raising awareness about the initiative using their own networks.  

AmerICantBreathe.org has raised more than $250,000, much of it from Lambert’s network of PR professionals. Over 50 organizations have been nominated to receive funding. 

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, and the protests and conversations around systemic racism it spurred, “I think there is a lot of hunger in PR communications around, ‘What do we tell our clients they should say?” Lambert said. He added that he hopes to see clients going a step further: tying their statements to direct action.

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