Late last month, my colleague Christopher Locke and I awoke to Los Angeles’s infamous Santa Ana winds and hopped a flight to that other famously wind-whipped city, Chicago, to attend the 46th annual National Conference of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). The NOMA conference took place from October 17th-20th under the theme “Unbounded” and we were joined by fellow ZGFers, Principal Steven Lewis, Associate Principals Camilla Watson and Amy Perenchio, and Associate Gabrielle Riley. We expected a series of sessions about the challenges, successes, and initiatives in which our minority peers in architecture have been leading the charge—but what we experienced was so much more than that. In a time where ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ seem to be buzzwords in every major industry, the conference displayed, first-hand, the importance of a non-homogenous workplace. Tying the weekend together, were interwoven stories of successful minority professionals explaining how their unique backgrounds influence the great work they are doing today.
While I have spent the last six months as an active member in the Southern California NOMA Chapter and was a mentor at the ZGF-sponsored 2018 NOMA Pipeline Summer Camp, I was nervous about attending the conference in fear that I would not belong. My white skin did stand out, but my concerns were unfounded. I left with new friends, experiences, knowledge, and, most importantly, a sense of responsibility for spreading the word about this inspiring organization and to continue advocating for an inclusive workplace. For me, it was four days that will continue to define who I am as a person and as an architect for years to come.
Here are some of the key themes and takeaways:
On Designing for Social Justice: The Sweet Water Foundation, based on the South Side of Chicago, explained their “creative and regenerative social justice method” of creating inspiring community-centric spaces in once-blighted neighborhoods.
On Women in Architecture: Chicago based Tiara Hughes started a research initiative titled First 500 that is committed to documenting a concise database of all licensed African American women architects, starting with Beverly L. Greene, ‘number one’, in order to seal their continuing legacy in the profession.
On Afrofuturism: Christopher Locke, Associate at ZGF, and his group Designing in Color opened the conference with a workshop titled For Us, By Us: Afrofuturism Recontextualizing Our Possible Futures. The group reached back to highlight un-popularized historical achievements by black visionaries in efforts to project those ideas into the future.
On the NOMA Pipeline: As the NOMA University Liaison for the Western Region, ZGF Associate Gabby Riley held a workshop about the Student Design Competition in which nearly 40 universities submitted design proposals for a site in the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.
Lifting as we climb… As part of ZGF’s continued commitment to youth mentorship, we sponsored the conference attendance of two Los Angeles high school students, whom we had met during the 2018 NOMA Pipeline Summer Camp, and who later joined us for our NOMA x ZGF Shadowing Program. Danielle Neal and Damarye Diggs, and their parents, [pictured above] spent the weekend meeting professionals, talking to university admissions directors, and admiring the historic architecture of Chicago—an impactful experience that will influence their bright future in this profession. As me and my colleagues, and our firm continue to support the NOMA mission, here are some ways that you can learn more and get involved too:
About the National Organization of Minority Architects NOMA was created in 1971 by a group of 12 black architects who envisioned a more inclusive future for their industry. They joined forces with the mission to champion diversity within the design professions by promoting the excellence, community engagement, and professional development of its members. Today, the organization’s nearly one thousand members are committed to advocating for one another and to working together to shift mindsets and move the needle toward increased minority representation and leadership in the field of architecture. In fact, the strong relationships among NOMA members have created a group that is more reminiscent of a family than an organization.