Ashley Blanco ‘22 went behind-the-scenes of the exclusive New York Fashion Week (NYFW) last month through her involvement with The Excellence Program, an initiative started by rapper, record executive, and entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs and Endeavor.
“I got to network with a few of the panelists [at NYFW] and met [designer] Christian Siriano and [model] Taylor Hill,” said Blanco, a Business of Creative Enterprises (BCE) major and Entrepreneurship (E3) minor. “Both of the celebrities were very kind and friendly.”
The Excellence Program was launched in July 2021 by Combs and Endeavor Impact, the social responsibility arm of the sports and entertainment conglomerate, to educate, empower, and expand opportunities for the next generation of entertainment industry leaders, particularly those from underrepresented communities.
Blanco joined the program through her work as a campus ambassador for the T. Howard Foundation, an organization dedicated to diversifying media. Throughout a six-week course, students learned about touring and performing, professional development, the business of entertainment and storytelling from industry professionals like Joey Bada$$, Cari Champion, Victor Cruz, Terrence Jenkins, Marshawn Lynch, French Montana, and more.
Fashion Week was a great hands-on learning experience, Blanco said, and it was great being able to see production, business, and marketing come together and contribute to a final product, on top of what she learned in her courses.
“I got to see the business side of how all these events come through,” Blanco said of The Excellence Program, “and you just meet so many industry professionals…Each week there was always something new, actually, every day was something new.”
Blanco was not only proud to represent Endeavor, but also first-generation Emerson students. She got involved with Emerson’s First-Generation/Low-Income Program (FLI) as an Emtern at Emerson Los Angeles this past summer, and joined once back on the Boston campus, becoming president.
Throughout achievements such as being named a Massachusetts Broadcasting Association Scholar last summer; working as a production intern for Rikki Hughes, also known as Dave Chappelle’s producer; and winning first prize in last spring’s E3 (Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship) Pitch Competition, Blanco noticed that she was one of few first-gen and Latina students to have these opportunities.
“That was also a big deal to me, to be able to represent, not only in the ELA campus, but having the same opportunities as everyone else… Being able to represent and being the only Latina at the table, that says a lot,” said Blanco.
Blanco’s overall experience at New York Fashion Week was emotional, filled with excitement, nerves, and lots of reflection. The journey to a place where it all started for her (her mother first arrived in the U.S. in Queens), to being a part of The Excellence Program and experiencing NYFW up close, made her realize the importance of being a first-gen Latina in a leadership position and the opportunity gap between different communities.
She said it is her drive, strength, motivation, as well as her support system – her networks, her mentors, Emerson alumni, and the Emerson first-generation community — that gives her confidence that she encourage others like her to pursue opportunities like hers and nurture their natural talents to become thoughtful creatives and visionaries.
“I was more than anything proud that my name was on the list [for NYFW] and that I had made it on the list… Especially being a first-gen Latina, society shows that you don’t belong there …, but there was something powerful in that for me, saying that I do belong here and that I do have value in some way,” said Blanco.