This is the second in a series of profiles celebrating the work of our alumni for Black History Month. Please see the newslider at the bottom of this article for additional profiles.
Alex Woodruff (ABJ ’14) is a sales executive and independent filmmaker. He has eight years of experience working with C-level stakeholders, positioning technology solutions across all industries. He owns an Emmy Award-winning film company in Atlanta where he has produced and directed projects that spotlight underrepresented narratives.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
I passed a car in Atlanta yesterday with the message “Without Black History There Is NO History” scrawled across its rear window. I liked that. Black history is as essential and unstructured as water. And this month of remembrance is as much a vehicle for change against systemic bigotry as it is a means to champion unheralded innovators, activists and artists.
For me personally, I wish it were enough. Each February we exalt the stories of our forebears whose wisdom transcends generations. We mold our plight into a message that has the potential to truly move people, while acknowledging the leaders who got us here.
Then we witness the barbaric police murder of Tyre Nichols. Just two weeks later we find ourselves in a fight for whether schools will allow black history to be taught in full, or at all. I know our battles pale in comparison to those our parents and grandparents fought, but it still can feel insurmountable at times.
However I know that it isn’t. I hope this month serves as a space for reflection and unification among the community who will lead this generation in the spirit of those who came before.
What led you to your current career path?
My path is guided by a longing for artistic expression, healthy competition, and to provide for those I care for. I’ve meandered through different corporate and creative channels in pursuit of those three drivers until I found my current dual-career, which feels like the ultimate happy-place.
While in undergrad at UGA I sold glasses at the local LensCrafters to help pay my tuition and mounting student loans. There I developed my love for sales and the competitive joy of having a high-performing day. Simultaneously I managed my schoolwork and began to enter professional sales competitions (yeah, those exist) that I felt could lead me toward a career with financial freedom one day. By night I was producing music and videos both as a rapper and director, which led to opportunities to open for Kendrick Lamar and Big Sean.
Graduating in 2015 with a six-figure sales job allowed me to build my financial footing, while benefiting from being able to make my own schedule. As an artist, that freedom afforded the time to pursue my craft, and the money to invest in it. Ultimately I found a new channel, filmmaking, that I grew to love. What enchanted me was the potential to create entire worlds from imagination and then dazzle a captive audience both sonically and visually for 90 minutes. Not even a great song can do that.
In the years since, I’ve grown in both aspects of my dual-career. I’m the co-owner of an Emmy Award-winning film company with several exciting projects releasing this year, and last year I was named Global Director of Sales for Duality Technologies.
What experience during your time at Grady College had the biggest influence on where you are today?
In furtherance of the duality theme here, I was a double-major at Terry and Grady colleges during my time at UGA. While Terry gave me the on-ramp to my first job out of school, it was Grady that afforded me the license to explore myself as a student and a writer. As I transitioned my major from Newspaper, to Broadcast, then Public Relations, before finally settling on Advertising, I found myriad ways to professionally channel my creativity and passion for writing.
It’s hard to pinpoint the most influential experience I had, but the one that most closely mirrors where I am today was landing my internship at Mashable.com in 2013. This was an advertising position that required me to relocate to New York for 3 months. I’ll never forget that summer, because as a born-and-raised ATLien, I was forced out of my Georgia bubble for the first time in my life. I learned the speed and language of the corporate world, while being able to pursue my creative ambitions in a completely different environment. There are hundreds of Grady alumni in New York, many of whom are eager to pay-it-forward to the younger generation, and I took full advantage of that boost.
What is one challenge that you’ve faced in your professional career and how did you overcome it?
Being taken seriously. This particular challenge isn’t unique to me and, like many others, it is one I feel constantly pit against. In any forum I strive to bring my whole self: vulnerable, Black, curious, fallible and accomplished. Invariably, though, people want to categorize other people into pre-existing buckets that reinforce their worldview. Especially in a corporate setting, time is of the essence, and a strong elevator pitch is a prerequisite. As soon as you’ve uttered half a sentence, your audience is already forming their opinion about your words using everything from your clothes to your accent.
I struggle against these confines in nearly every new interaction because I despise stereotypical boxes. A related (and harder to admit) challenge here is that I never truly know how much of this exists in my imagination versus in reality, and the answer to that question often rests just beyond my reach. There’s a clip of Trevor Noah from “The Daily Show” musing on this phenomenon that I often think about.
Because of this, the way I combat those feelings of being commoditized or judged is to press forward with self-confidence. I center myself in the knowledge that I am where I am for a reason, and most reasonable people will understand that eventually, if not immediately. It’s not a curative approach, and it doesn’t solve the more pervasive problems that cause this challenge in the first place. But it helps me get by, and I think that’s a fine goal for now.
What is one piece of advice you live by?
That there are only two modes you can live by: in love, or in fear. Whichever mode you choose, the point is that you have to actively choose. I try to channel every decision through a loving lens.
I pursue my passion because I love it, not because I’m afraid of being a failure.
I care for my body because I love me, not because I’m afraid of what people will think of me.
And I love my people because I love my people, not because I’m afraid that they’ll stop loving me if I don’t.