#MentorMonday: Melanie Ray, AIA + NOMA + LEED Green Associate
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 inspiration. I hope you all enjoy this series.
Name: Melanie Ray
Hometown: Jersey City, NJ, but born in Orange
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and Planning and when?
I was introduced to architecture at an early age. My father was a licensed architect in New Jersey, and along with his own practice, he had a home office set up in our basement. I went downstairs all the time to see what buildings my dad was working on, such as small business expansions, residential additions, or a new church. Papers were EVERYWHERE, but I thought the rolls of drawings stacked against the walls and the different types of pencils were so cool. I didn’t think much of becoming an architect then, but in high school, I realized that architecture was the ideal career that combined all of my interests.
What does it mean to be a black planner to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
When I was studying for my exams with my peers, I always felt like there was a little more pressure to pass. Looking back, I was probably overthinking it, but even then I knew that becoming an architect would mean so much to myself, my family, and my culture. It’s true that we have to work twice as hard to get half the distance, and architecture is no exception. Being a black woman architect means that I stand on the shoulders of only few hundred before me, but I also am laying the foundation for the next few thousand. I am constantly challenging myself to learn about my profession, expand my professional networks, and increase my skill set because we have to stand out as excellent designers, not just the only person of color in the room.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black planner/designer?
Now that I’m a licensed architect, I find myself in a more active fight against ‘tokenism’. When you are one of less than 500 black female architects in the country, it’s easy to find yourself as the voice of ‘the culture’ and, unfortunately, I may not realize this until after I’ve re-evaluated the situation and ask myself “Hold on, am I only being asked this because I’m the only black person in the room?”. While it’s important we celebrate diversity in the profession and encourage more people of color to consider careers in architecture, it’s also important that we are valued as team members and leaders which contribute to all aspects of a project.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture /Urban Planning school right now, what would it be?
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
How important is representation?
I mentioned that my dad and his practice was my first exposure to the field of architecture. It would not be until I attended my first NOMA conference that I would meet another black architect, and by then I was a sophomore in college. I was able to go into my undergraduate education knowing exactly what I wanted to be, but far too often, young people are not exposed to this field until they have already started in another major. Black architects were not a foreign concept to me because I knew it was possible at a young age. We need more black children to know that this profession is an option if we want to see a different future, and for that, we need representation.