#MentorMonday: Valecia Wilson
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.
Valecia Wilson, Assoc. AIA, Senior Neighborhood Planner, DC Office of Planning
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
Growing up, I had an interest in art and building places (through blocks and etc.). My family noticed and suggested I look into a career in design. I started researching architecture and it felt like the perfect fit for me! Around the time I was choosing a major, the flooding from Hurricane Katrina had just swept through New Orleans, displacing my family and their neighborhoods. This further cemented my commitment to working in the built environment, but it wasn’t until my senior year of architecture school that I realized my future was in community-scale design and planning.
What does it mean to be a black architect/ urban designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
My Blackness informs my commitment to equity, and it makes it hard to ignore the overall lack of diversity in the field and the fact that Black people are not given the opportunity to make decisions about the places in which they live, work, create joy, and build community. For me, my Blackness means I have a responsibility to make room for the unheard to be heard. I think that anyone who recognizes the impact of racism in the world has a responsibility to work against it and all of the other ‘-isms’ that work in concert with it. I do think that if you are a black designer who is committed to working against racism, there is no excuse to perpetuate systemic harm to other disenfranchised communities.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/ urban designer?
I am thankful to have occupied educational and professional spaces that have been generally great; however, I have sometimes experienced people underestimating my education because I earned my M. Arch from an HBCU. Thankfully these people haven’t had any influence over my path!
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?
Build meaningful relationships with people further along on their paths, sure, but invest just as much in building lasting professional relationships with your peers!
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
None yet–I haven’t gotten to that bridge!
How important is representation?
Representation is only as meaningful as an institution’s commitment to equity and justice-seeking. Sure, it’s nice for people who never considered a career to see themselves in that work, but it isn’t enough. People of diverse backgrounds need to be seen and heard and respected as influential voices in the organizations they are apart of. Just as importantly, these “representatives” must be committed to that cause as well–it doesn’t matter if you’re there if you also plan to be the gatekeeper or otherwise problematic.