#MentorMonday: Ronnell Hampton

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: Ronnell Hampton

Hometown: San Diego, California. Currently Live in Long Beach, California (Los Angeles County)

What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and Planning and when?

I was in my master’s program and I was learning about urban infrastructure design. We learned about how systems have worked to develop infrastructure, and what the outcomes of that infrastructure is. We reviewed what was impacted or who benefited from the infrastructure. Reviewing infrastructure from an urban sustainability lens allowed me to understand that the outcomes of academics, economics, and health are dependent on how the built, systemic, and natural environments are sustained/developed. After completing my masters, I believed it was important to learn how to implement my urban sustainability lens in the built environment through architecture drafting and design. I am currently pursuing an Architectural Drafting and Design Certification. I consider myself an Urban Sustainability Planner with an Architectural Drafting and Design focus.

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

It means that I must be assertive, yet collaborative, negotiate but not compromise my values. It means that I must speak up so that I am not made invisible. It also means I must be open to constructive criticism yet decipher when someone is trying to minimize my contributions but remain confident despite.

 I think it’s a major responsibility because there are so few black people at the table. My seat is not mine alone, but it was forged in the struggle of black architects and designers that preceded me. It’s also a responsibility to the people who look like me that will interact with the infrastructure I help create. They must be able to say, “This was made for me too.”

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

Well I am newly employed so God is good. I would say a challenge is navigating through school k-12 and college not seeing myself as having the option to be an architect until I was in my master’s program. There is not enough examples, or opportunities for black students growing up to see that they can be architects, or urban planners. Too often the people at the table are making decision for people they do not know, and who have experiences that the decision makers will never have to endure. 

 

There needs to be special programs that work to develop students from the inner-city for urban planning/architecture career paths. I am a former foster child and was raised with my 5 siblings on public assistance. My life was constantly impacted by the built, systemic, and natural environments. Because of those experiences my passion for urban design is rooted in social, and environmental justice. I am developing a more equitable, and inclusive built, systemic, and natural environment. I strongly believe if we prepare young black boys and girls at a younger age for architecture and planning we can cement our seat at the table. I know if we make a better effort to prepare the next generation of black architects, and planners the outcome of academics, economics, and health for underserved and unrepresented communities would drastically improve.  

Should we ignore race in this profession?

No race should not be ignored. I think race is the big elephant in the room within this profession. Too often white men have controlled the landscape of planning, architecture, and design. Their ideas, plans, their architecture, and their designs have controlled the value systems. The disparities in outcomes we see today are a direct result. Western patriarchal norms have created a society where white hetero man, or people with money can access things with little to no challenges. However, the zoning codes, economic, environmental policy, health policy, and academic policy, have failed so many children, so many families, so many communities. How the environment it is developed can create the biggest barrier to thriving academically, economically, and in health. Race based policy creation has always been the culprit of poverty. Until we address this, we will never have an equitable and inclusive anything.

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

Some advice I would give is connect with a network of other black professionals, black planners, and architects. If you are at a PWI and you find yourself being the “only” find online communities. This way you can really see others that look like you and are striving for the same thing. Also don’t be afraid to take on leadership positions or share your ideas. Sometimes you will feel like your ideas are being dismissed or stolen (they probably are) however we don’t have the luxury of being complacent or docile, only strategically successful.

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

I am not a licensed architect; I am an Urban Sustainability Planner/Architectural Designer, but I would say my lowest point was after finishing my masters and quitting my job as a licensed banker. I wanted to pursue a career transition from banking into urban planning so in June 2017 I walked away from a full-time with benefits career. I had a savings but my bills started to deplete it rapidly. I realized I was not getting a job in urban planning as soon as I had expected. Although I had my masters many positions were asking for 2-3-year experiences for an entry level planning position.  I ended up starting my organization Growing Greatness to gain the experience I didn’t have. At the same time, I started an internship with an organization that eventually became a paying client. I provided zoning and permitting consultation for their small development, and mural projects. 

 

From June 2017 until March 2019, I did not have a stable income. I used my organization to build my paid clientele and develop the necessary experience, but I struggled financially to pay my bills monthly. It was the most stressful, and anxious I have ever been in my life, but I did not give up on myself, and the vision I decided I wanted for me. On top of running my business, I had to supplement my income by driving for lyft and uber. I also enrolled into an Architectural Drafting and Design program to pursue a certification in order to make myself a more viable candidate for career opportunities. Although I was very stressed, and anxious, I was able to lean on my support system. I shared my challenges with my close friends and my family and they provide support in the ways they could. This was a very humbling experience for me because I hate needing help; however, in retrospect I was able to create my own opportunity to develop my experience I needed in order to make the moves I wanted to make. Using my experience, I was able to get my first full time position in urban planning as a Senior Data Analyst. 

 

Now I am in my second position within the field working as a Senior Project Associate with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council’s Community Development Department. I am currently facilitating project management for the storefront transformations under the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network in South LA. I also assist with business development resources. The Healthy Neighborhood Market Program ultimate purpose is to help the storefronts offer healthier food options in communities known as food deserts, and swamps. Our goal is to revitalize vs gentrify. 

How important is representation?

Representation is very important. I am glad that I finally found my love for urban sustainability planning and architecture however I wish there were programs that would have brought that out of me when I was growing up. This would have enabled me to pursue a career in urban sustainability planning when I started college. I spent a lot of time trying to figure this out. If I was exposed at a young age to this opportunity, I would have had a clearer road map. I am appreciative of my experiences because I know they play a major role in why I do what I do; however since I did not have it, my goal is to serve as representation so that former foster children, and first generation college students feel empowered to change their built, systemic, and natural environments to ensure they are equitable and inclusive.

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