Amanda Parris; Toronto;
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?
By day I am the host of and and I write a weekly column for CBC Arts. By night I write plays and ideas for scripted television shows.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to York University for my undergraduate where I studied political science and women’s studies. For graduate school I went to OISE at the University of Toronto where I got my degree in the sociology of education.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
Well I wasn’t one of those folks who didn’t work while in school. I had various jobs throughout my entire undergraduate career, working at meaningful places like the Centre for Women and Trans People and less transformative places like Athletes World. A few days after completing my undergraduate degree I got a call from The Remix Project [which helps young people from disadvantaged and underserved communities] and was offered a job as an outreach and community partnerships coordinator. It’s not directly in my field but it helped to set the trajectory to get to the field that I am in now. It was a position that really changed my life in beautiful ways.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
I’m not sure if I would characterize any singular moment as my BIG break, but I have had a lot of windows of opportunity open for me, and each one has contributed to my growth and development. There was a moment after I moved back to Toronto from New York when I couldn’t find a job. I applied for so many positions, attended countless interviews, but nothing was landing. It was an incredibly draining and disheartening period. Finally, a window: offered me a small part-time position facilitating a diversity program they had developed for CBC and I jumped at the opportunity. Through that program I was able to meet a number of the top executives at CBC, build relationships and understand the values and direction of the corporation. It was the opportunity that directly led to all that I am doing today.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
Hmmm…I think those moments come and go. They’re fleeting. Some days I can pause and feel really proud of everything that I’ve done and the direction I’m heading in. Other days self-doubt gets in the way or I look around at the world and struggle to remain hopeful.
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
My biggest shortcoming has been not recognizing the possibilities of my potential. Self-doubt is a hell of a thing and it’s something I still fight against daily. The bounce back is ongoing and one of my key strategies is going in front of the mirror and giving myself the pep talk I believe Kanye West gives himself every day. I also try to do it in a Kanye West voice which always helps.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
Don’t just dream about it. Do it.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
Someone once told me that in order to work in this country I would need to silence my authentic voice because it will never be welcomed here. I tried very hard not to listen to them.
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
When I was working in the hip-hop industry I was definitely challenged as a woman. I would constantly get ‘tested’ by random male hip-hop heads who would judge me if I couldn’t recite from memory every lyric from “Protect Ya Neck.” At first I was so insecure that I spent countless hours trying to learn everything under the sun about the culture, but as my confidence grew I became strong enough to refuse their ridiculous tests and claimed my space.
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennial at work?
There is an enduring stereotype that millennials are lazy and don’t know how to work hard. My years of working with millennials who produce TV shows, write articles, build social media platforms, develop curriculum, create educational programs, define musical trends and reshape policies and culture have definitely proven otherwise.