#MentorMonday: Ellen Abraham

Welcome to #MentorMonday! Mondays are dedicated to celebrating Black LICENSED Architects, Designers, and individuals in the profession of Architecture!

The questions asked to these individuals are to allow us into their lives and to be used as an inspiration. I hope you all enjoy this series.

Name: Ellen D Abraham

Hometown: Roseau, Commonwealth of Dominica, West Indies

What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?

…a few things. As a kid, my parents enrolled me into Art School. Among many things, We painted the French Creole houses in my town and I absolutely loved it!

Secondly, unbeknownst to him, my dad had a huge influence in my decision to pursue architecture. Even though he worked in the Police Force, he designed our second home. I remember him showing me the floor plans which were realized from His sketches.

I remember walking along the poured foundation footings and climbing a ladder to stand on the roof, after it was completed. As a kid, I had no idea what I was doing exactly but I’ve thought about this question before and that’s the earliest memory of mine which drove me to say…”I can do this”.  My desired profession graduated from artist to architect by the age of 10. So…”Thanks Dad”.

What does it mean to be a black architect/designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?

Our professional responsibility is the same for myself and my other counterparts, irrespective of our ethnicities I.e. the Heath and safety of people. However, the responsibility “to the culture” as we like to say, is huge. It’s up to us to show that Architecture is a profession that is accessible, inclusive and within reach. It’s great to be a unicorn but we need more of us to change the narrative by creating spaces which reflect our communities and heritage.

What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/designer?

I have experienced both exclusion and sabotage in the workplace. I don’t speak about this often because it’s hard for most to understand the subtlety of this. However, when or if it’s done to you, you see and feel it very clearly.

Should we ignore race in this profession?

No. When diversity exists, you get the best results. Great design, techniques, strategies and teams are typically inclusive rather than the contrary.

We should understand the reasons for a lack of Diversity within any space, identify the barriers for entry and sustainability of that career path, among other things, then work diligently as a community to affect change.

If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture school right now, what would it be?

  1. If this sparks joy within you, keep at it. If you don’t see others like you, google and you will find others who are here to support and nurture your growth like the National Organization of Minority Architects. I found them on Instagram.
  2. Your design perspective and opinions are valid. Don’t shrink behind uncertainty or unfamiliarity. Ask lots for questions to push your knowledge level and trust me, the right ones will reward that curiously.
  3. When bias exists towards you or another, acknowledge it and demand that it be ceased.
  4. School can be extremely expensive so don’t be shy about asking for sponsorship from your network, organizations or your educator’s networks.
  5. Access may seem limited but all you need is one “Yes”.

Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?

Prior to this point, my objective was not licensure, but experience. That has changed slightly.

Moment of transparency-

I’m not sure if others can identify with this but if I had passed one last exam in the ARE 4.0, then I would have had two more in ARE 5.0 to complete for licensure. However I failed it…again and again.  I still don’t know why or how. I was overwhelmed with my work load and I flatlined for a bit. I took a mental break and I’m currently swimming back to the light…and passing!

How important is representation?

…Very Important.

It fuels subconscious confidence.

It challenges the notion that some professions are for some and not others.

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