While most high school students were focused on passing their history test and surviving the perils of adolescence, Dr. Jazz Walker was a little bit different. The Inglewood-native hustled hard during high school, founding and running the fashion department of Nick Cannon’s now-defunct, Celebrity High Magazine. She interviewed some of Hollywood’s hottest young celebrities and built a skillset and work ethic that eventually led to internships with Seventeen Magazine and True Religion Brand Jeans. All of this laid the foundation for the entrepreneur, educator, researcher, and marketing and communication professional that Jazz would eventually become.
After high school, Jazz did a semester at Santa Monica Community College but she already had her sights set on an advanced degree, so she quickly began looking into undergraduate programs at colleges and universities to transfer into—with a particular interest in programs that focused on the intersections of fashion and marketing.
“I was looking at programs at both FIDM and Woodbury but I realized that Woodbury was AACSB accredited and FIDM wasn’t,” she says. “Since I knew that I wanted to go to grad school when I was finished with undergrad, this accreditation was really important to me.”
Jazz transferred to Woodbury in the spring of 2010 and her strong work ethic quickly paid off. She was honored as the School of Business’ “Marketing Student of the Year” in 2011. While immersed in her studies at Woodbury, Jazz got involved with the university in other ways as well, including serving as an academic peer mentor and helping to relaunch the Black Student Union.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in Fashion Marketing—with a minor in Public Relations and Communications—in fall 2012 and then used her education and experience to launch a career in the corporate fashion world. For Jazz, however, this path did not work out as expected.
“The fashion industry—like most industries—has a lot of work to do to create work environments that fully support employees of color, specifically Black employees, and really give them the support to thrive,” she says. “During my time in the fashion industry, I dealt with a lot of micro-aggressions related to things like how my hair looked, the way I dressed and even the way I talked. It was difficult to navigate those spaces, feeling constantly policed and unable to bring my whole self to my work environment.”
Instead of turning away from these challenges, however, Jazz developed a renewed sense of purpose, and a strong desire to change the inequities that she experienced.
Her journey down this path began with Teach for America, where Jazz spent two-years teaching in North Las Vegas, Nevada. The experience of educating young people of color, as well as figuring out how to develop culturally responsive teaching methods, led Jazz to begin examining the intersections of media, culture, education, and society. She then started to envision how she might be able to help media and marketing corporations work toward adapting more authentic, diverse, and inclusive storytelling strategies when connecting with consumers of color, particularly Black consumers.
During her time with Teach for America, Jazz earned her Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, culminating in 2016. She then went on to earn her Ph.D. in Communications, Culture, and Media studies from Howard University in 2019.
Her education—at Woodbury and beyond—as well as her experiences in the corporate world and as an educator, all helped to lead Jazz to found her company: SIXTEEN-THREE, a diversity, equity and inclusion-focused market research firm, centered on supporting brands and organizations that want to invest in and connect with Black communities.
“The training and support that I got at Woodbury, from the chair, Wendy Bendoni, and others in the Fashion Marketing program, really gave me the foundation to start my business and excel in my career,” she says. “Now, I research culture, equity, and society and use that research to support brands in their digital marketing strategies.” Most recently, Dr. Walker spoke at the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, CA, sharing her research on “How Black Beauty Influencers Are Using Language to Build Community, and Why It Matters.”
For Jazz, who is now based in Washington, D.C., it is gratifying to be part of the solution to such a vexing issue.
“When I left the fashion industry, my goal was to work towards removing these barriers that prevented people of color—particularly black women—from feeling, supported and being successful in these spaces, so to be doing exactly that, five years later, is truly rewarding.”