Ava L. Hall’s journey amplifying a global brand, global good and Black culture around the world.
Having a position is one thing. Doing so with a larger passion and purpose is something greater.
By Jessica Dupree
For 23 years, brand architect and global entertainment executive Ava L. Hall did more than bring a presence and command within the global entertainment and media industry. Her love of music, arts, style, and global culture, combined with her expertise, wit, and presence resulted in a journey larger and more impactful than anyone could have imagined.
The witty, affable Hall spent over two decades with the world’s most iconic brand in African-American culture, BET (Black Entertainment Television). The first 10 years were spent in various creative roles culminating as the Vice President of Creative Services (US Business). In the latter 13 years, with an outstanding work ethic, work product, and overall presence, Hall was tapped to help launch BET International and emerged as the first Vice President of BET International programming and production, making her one of the most powerful and influential media leaders on a global scale. “What Ava was able to accomplish launching and getting BET International on the air and with such a small team, was nothing shy of a miracle” said Michael D. Armstrong, (Executive Vice President of Worldwide TV Licensing and Operations for Viacom-CBS, as well as, the former Executive Vice President and General Manager of BET International)
Through her visionary leadership, Hall went on to help launch BET Africa, BET France, BET UK extending the brand’s global distribution to over 55 countries outside of the US. With her respected presence and significant impact elevating and amplifying black talent and black culture around the world many of the biggest international superstars on the globe not only commend her work, but reinforced how much of a bridge-builder she is. As British influencer, model, and BET UK presenter Jourdan Rianne reflects, “She (Ava) has given me opportunities that I never imagined I would be able to receive”.
Hall’s underlying focus is to ensure black talent and black narratives from different parts of the globe are magnified, respected, and viewed on the global level. She approached this goal by seeking authentic local connections and representations of black culture in each of these regions, it’s truly about shining a bright light on black narratives and communities, talent. “It’s important that we find out what is resonating outside of this broad stroke of let’s just but black people on television, it has to be deeper than that…it has to be real and authentic” says Hall.
With the insight to launch multiple international categories of the BET Awards, the BET Hip Hop Awards, and BET’s Sunday best international auditions, talent from around the world were given a platform for enhanced exposure and appreciation, providing improved celebration and engagement across multiple audiences. As Sarkodie (Ghana), the 2019 BET Hip Hop Awards Best International Flow winner (and 2012 BET Awards Best Africa Act winner) emphasizes, “She has always held me down and made sure I was represented.”
2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee and 2017 Global Good Star recipient Ilwad Elman (Somali) echoes these sentiments. “Thank you (Ava) for recognizing this little activist from Mogadishu and bridging the gap between culture and leadership”, speaking of Hall’s creation of the BET Global Good campaign. The campaign’s slogan is “One love; one heart” and recognizes global celebrities and public figures that use their platform for social responsibility, goodness, and has demonstrated commitment to the welfare of the global black community and/or global issues.
Hall provides some additional insight on her journey with the global brand (from her interview with Heart and Soul Magazine) and shares her special Black Music Month Playlist.
Heart & Soul: You talk a lot about bridging the gap amongst Black Culture. What does Black Culture mean to you? How do you embrace and celebrate it?
Ava L. Hall: Black culture is the driver of all culture. Black culture is the treasure of our blackness. Our culture is rich in beauty, heritage, royalty, talent and uniqueness. However, our culture has been stolen, scattered, underrepresented, and misrepresented. In my position, I was able to experience this array of black beauty from different places all over the world and identify our likeness as well as the unique differences. I felt strongly the more that I connect bridges between different sub-cultures of black communities around the world, there could be this circle of affirmation and a bridge of unity, believing we are stronger together. I never took for granted the position I was placed in to advance an iconic brand forward, as well as amplify black culture. I was aware that I was the only woman in leadership charged with such a task, perhaps the only woman or person anywhere in the world doing so. I gave it everything I had with passion, heart and soul.
Heart & Soul: You have played a major role in bringing African talent to the forefront at international stages and the world to Africa, what brought on that idea?
Ava L Hall: The backstory is I had a very deep and personal experience with BET before I even began working there. When it launched 40 years ago, it was this symbol of hope and inspiration to me. To be able to see representation on television that look like me was a huge inspiration and an example of what was possible. BET, when it launched 40 years ago, was the first “Black Lives Matter” movement when you think about it. When I began working at BET 23 years ago, I was truly able to experience the power of representation, the power of opportunity, and the power of our culture, especially how he platform was a place of discovery for black talent. In the US, BET was where talent was groomed and stars were made. It was where music and where black culture lived. I was charged to grow the brand around the world I knew I wanted to duplicate that experience in Africa, UK, France, and all the markets that we were present. I was always looking for talent and stories, those that needed a platform, visibility, and an opportunity. Not only did I want to help bridge the gap, but I wanted to connect black culture around the world. In the words of political activist, Angela Davis, a wall turned sideways is a bridge.
Heart & Soul: You were instrumental in championing for artists who were winners & nominees of international awards. What type of attributes did you look for that made them stand out?
Ava L. Hall: For music categories, there was a set of criteria like music sales/charts, streams, downloads, artist popularity, and other brand filters. Beyond the criteria, I have always had a keen intuition on how many layers there are to a star or talent. Characteristics that have always stood out to me are charisma, passion, audience connectivity, authenticity, and raw talent.
Heart & Soul: We witnessed you amplifying the voices of a lot of African talent internationally. Not just talent but change makers. Why did you feel this very necessary?
Ava L. Hall: Social impact has always been important because this where you can affect the well-being, health, and heart of a community. These are the reasons I created and developed the Global Good Initiative and Award. The objectives include the following: (1) To recognize the spirit of human goodness and humanitarian efforts that impact or educate black communities around the world. (2) To provide a platform that celebrates, elevates, and amplifies human goodness and humanitarian efforts. (3) To inspire the pursuit of humanitarian goals and goodness amongst others. I’m so proud to have created this award to recognize global celebrities and public figures that use their platform for social responsibility, goodness, and has demonstrated commitment to the welfare of the global black community and/or global issues. Previous winners include Millen Magese (Tanzania), Akon (Senegal), Ilwad Elman (Somalia), Yvonne Chaka Chaka (South Africa), Bismack Biyombo (DR Congo), and Chaka Bars (UK). I encourage everyone to look these amazing past honorees and see the amazing impact they’ve had on the global black community.
Heart & Soul: As your advancement grew in the media industry and you became one of the most notable global media forces not just in the USA but globally, what are some of the challenges you faced?
Ava L. Hall: As they say, ”New levels, new devils”. What I’ve learned for sure is not everyone wants to see you advance. Unfortunately, sometimes the higher you go, there’s a target on your back, traps on the floor, and locks on the door. I’ve dealt with those who are uncomfortable with a woman in leadership and they try to muzzle your voice. I’ve dealt with sabotage and betrayal. I’ve felt the effects of being the only minority in leadership. Additionally, I’ve never felt the need to be a part of the “corporate club,” and sometimes, you get resented for that too. I’ve always tried to stay focused on pushing the goals down the field. By far, my journey has not been a poetic walk in the park. I’ve definitely have had to stand my ground in areas. I try to address untruths and disrespect. You don’t have to like me, but you need to respect me. All in all, I’m grateful for the journey and for those who have believed in me along the way, as well as propelling my name to places that are cemented in the industry. Perhaps I’ll save some of the more jaw dropping stories for my book!
Heart & Soul: You’ve championed for the biggest international talent & you’re regarded as a mentor, friend, mother, etc. Tell us about your style of leadership & why/how it was so impactful.
Ava L. Hall: My leadership style is transformational and inspirational. I am passionate about the work that I do; I do it with integrity and moral conviction. I want to have a measurable and visible impact at the companies where I work and with the people that I encounter. I want to motivate others to do and be their best. I’m not here just to take up space, but to make space and ultimately, I’m here to develop other leaders. What I hear consistently from others about my leadership is that I stretch people beyond their comfort zone, pushing them to accomplish what they didn’t know was possible, and that I’m very proud of.
Heart & Soul: What and who are some of your inspirations?
Ava L. Hall: I have to say a lot of my inspiration started at home. Beginning with my mother, RuVader T. Hall. She is an amazing, independent, God-Fearing woman, who stressed hard work, education, community and faith. I had a professor at Central State University, Dr. Edwin Clay, that taught me to always be prepared, to make an effort to know more than I think I need to know and to keep an open mind, as far as, as vision the I had myself.
Heart & Soul: Your platform has been one of diversity, inclusion, and #representation of international talent for 13 years. When did you realize that your passion for black culture & music translated into a purpose, a mission to bridge the gap, create opportunities, and be a voice to the voiceless?
Ava L. Hall: I’ve always been a citizen of culture, curious about the world, and concerned with the wellbeing of mankind. I believe my entry way into this love affair I have with Africa began with the cultural arts, specifically music, fashion, storytelling, and my passion for culture has been strengthen with the amazing real relationships that I’ve created with so many on the continent and of the African Diaspora. Additionally, I’ve always been clear that we are not a monolithic people. My goal is to create synergy between creatives on different continents that would yield greater understanding between the culture practitioners around the world. Every collaboration between artistes, especially from different cultures, must start somewhere with some understanding of their commonalities amidst their differences. Most creative work is essentially the commodification of culture. Everyone deserves to be represented.
Heart & Soul: In recent years, we witnessed one of the biggest superstars walk away from a deal because when she walked in the office there were no black executives or employees. Why is it important to have black executives making decisions with black talent & culture?
Ava L. Hall: We’ve seen major corporations (Prada, H&M, Gucci, Target) get into hot water when trying to manage black culture or even pop culture. There has been misrepresentation or missteps because there is not authentic understanding of black culture. They do not understand cultural sensitivities or appropriateness in many cases. I’ve witness too many non-black executives just look at black culture as a product to monetize, but for those of us that are the culture, we know that we are more than a product but is It is important for black executives to be gatekeepers because there is an innate connection to what is cultural appropriate, authentic and best represented.
Heart & Soul: After 23 years with BET/BET International, what’s next for you?
Ava L. Hall: I still plan to develop, champion, shepherd global black narratives, stories, talent, as well as push black culture forward through various pathways. Additionally, I’ve launched Ava Lizzette Living, a healthy living, high-style, and positive inspiration lifestyle brand. The mission is to creatively inspire the world to live well, feel good, be good, and do good. In addition, I’ve launched “A Love Foundation”, with the purpose of spreading random acts of love and kindness to individuals, families, and communities through educational programs, mentorship and financial grants.
Heart & Soul: You created a “Black Music Month” playlist that features your top 10 international songs. What message do you want people to take away after listening to your playlist?
Ava L. Hall: This particular playlist is a good hybrid and mix of genres like Afrobeats, AfroPop, Dancehall, Hiphop, and Kwaito representing many different countries (Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, UK) along with highlighting a good blend of international male and female voices. There are some older favorites and some fresh new hits. I think it’s a good playlist for anyone wanting to learn more about “World music.”
Watch Ava L. Hall’s International Playlist Below
Brand architect. Global executive. Amplifying the narrative and the culture.
With passion and purpose, this is Ava L. Hall.