#MentorMonday: Ernest Bellamy
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.
Originally from Miami, FL. Currently a resident of Pittsburgh, PA
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
The first instance I could think of is the simplicity of Saturday morning fictional cartoons staged in real urban environments. In particular, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the setting of a cartoon in New York City. When paired with the imaginative adventures I would have with my TMNT action figures, this sparked an interest in the architecture of the city and the urban environments in which they inhabit.
This when paired with going to grade school in the inner city of Miami, all while growing up in 1950’s era suburban housing, and routinely visiting relatives in the rural agricultural landscape of Southwest Florida, all had an indelible effect on me for career aspirations and professional interests.
What does it mean to be a black architect/ urban designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
Being a Black Architect means: providing Equity to a profession seldom seen in its history as a diverse reflection of the people it serves.
Thus, The weight of responsibility is more, in order to bring parity and discourage misconceptions that plague us to this day.
Representation Matters! I was fortunate to have my first Black Architecture Teacher in High School; Najeeb Campbell. The next was my last Undergraduate professor; Marshall Brown. Beyond these two men, without being a member of NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects), I would’ve never seen the broad spectrum of designers who have made impactful works across the globe. For me, it means everything to be a Black Architect. I’m black, I am defined by my skin color. I’m prejudged on it. To be an Architect, a licensed one (as soon as a complete my exams), means that regardless of the challenges faced by blacks across the diaspora, anything you set your mind to is possible. Within the profession, I find it critical to inspire others who are coming into the profession, as well as those trying to figure out what their life path may be. I want to be there for those to help them find a way so that their path into the profession isn’t one walked alone but one that is easier than those of the past; with guidance to see the potential and future one can have.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/ urban designer?
While it’s 2020 and a lot of the struggles that my mentors and those before the time of the civil rights movement of the ’60s don’t have to be bared by me, I am challenged at current times by issues which seem surreal, off-center of reality, too consciously wrong to be perceived right, but does exist in reality. The issue of being seen as more than just my skin color, and as a competent/capable designer, without assumption on my abilities being faked, or not good enough, or not valid, still persist in our day and age.
One of my “Is this really happening/ You have to be kidding me” moments was…
Being asked by a superior to join, at the last minute, a project team that’s seeking to win a competitive bid for a housing project. The 11th hour asked to join the team was only for the role of aiding in presenting our proposal for the project at a community stakeholder meeting (of a community that is predominantly black). Being asked to join the team wasn’t for my talents as a multi-faceted designer: Having knowledge of various residential housing product types, or my background of designing appealing architectural schemes, or my acquired knowledge of urban systems and a penchant at fostering urban design solutions, but because I’m articulate and black.
In this example, being a team player means being willing and okay with waiting for your opportunity to contribute to a design firm that has a stacked roster of quality talent. However, for an employer, supervisor, or a firm to lack foresight/ depth of knowledge at the start of a project of how a diverse team can win the day on a project, and not plan for it; but try at the 11th hour to rectify the issue, is an unacceptable wrong.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
No, we should celebrate it. Especially in the U.S., we are defined by our individualism. We should always keep it ever-present, as it adds value to who we are as people, our deeper knowledge of ethnic neighborhoods by those of its background, and as a nation built on a tapestry of cultures. We are not one monolithic race, we are a culture built on understanding that and building on the success of our individual cultures for the betterment of the collective This should never be forgotten.
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture /Urban Planning school right now, what would it be?
Don’t give up. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. There is a space for you, your work, your thoughts, your expertise, and your vision in this Profession.
How important is representation?
It’s everything, it matters.
It’s the difference between authentic and fake.
Much like my example of being used on a project only for my relatability to an audience, you can’t fake/sugar coat the flaws of not really connecting and relating to a group, individual, community, client, project type/product. Being authentic from the start about who you are, what you’re about, and what you can do, will never lead one astray.