#MentorMonday: Berniise Thelusma Muhammad
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. The opinions and views expressed do not reflect those of America’s Hidden Gem(TM). They are exclusively opinions of those by whom they’re shared.
Ms. Berniise Thelusma Muhammad
Earth(smile) – Born in Nassau, Bahamas, currently in transit
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
The spark actually happened twice. The first time was many years ago in my middle school graphic arts class doing various projects, which at the time I did not know were related to architecture. Many years later the spark was reignited in 2016 when I was exposed to the Black Architects in the Making program (BAM) that my daughter was a part of. Prior to that I didn’t really know about being an architect.
What does it mean to be a black architect/ designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
My mind has not yet fully encompassed what it means to be a black architect. I have ideas of what I think it means, but the magnitude of that reality is yet to be realized. I am still a student. I think being an architect that is black and female will afford me the opportunity to present perspectives that may be currently missing or lacking in the profession. I’ll know better when I get there.
Yes. I do feel like I have more responsibility, especially since I’m starting from a point that isn’t very common. I’m venturing into a profession much later than most people would dare begin a new career, and I’m coming from a career that is totally unrelated to architecture. So far, on campus, and in literature used during my courses of study there has been no mention of black architects and/or black architecture, and the percentage of registered architects, especially female, is so minute that I feel even more compelled to accomplish this goal. So I guess you can say I do feel like I have more responsibility.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/ designer?
Pursuing architecture has been quite the rollercoaster ride of a mix of different emotions. Even though I’m doing well in school, I battle with my own personal insecurities. I ask myself, “what are you doing?” “How are you planning to get this done?” I’m a single parent, working a full time job, and I’m much older than most of my classmates, and have a lot more responsibilities. Things seem most difficult when I’m faced with the issue of finances. I have the drive, I have the grades, I ‘m making the time, but the cost of school has been one of the barriers that I am working to knock down in my quest towards licensure. During my time in school I was homeless and had to live in a shelter with my children. This was shortly after my mom passed away…. It was one of the toughest times in my life. I had 3 jobs at the time, but the cost of living compared to the wages I was earning just weren’t enough. I overcame that obstacle, but still fell a little anxious when I feel like I may not have money to pay for the things I need. Materials for school are expensive, and I know that it’s an investment, but when I’m spending the money for school while I know the rent is due, along with the utilities and other living expenses, I wrestle with the thought of “should I be spending this money?” I still have to feed my family. The expenses of being a parent and student are really mind blowing at times, so I’m grateful whenever I meet and over come those challenges.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
I’m not sure I understand this question. I feel like race is already being ignored in this profession. NOMA (The National Organization for Minority Architects was founded in 1971 for reasons that still exist til this very day. The fact that it’s still necessary to have organizations like NOMA is why I say races are already being ignored.
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture school right now, what would it be?
I would give the student the same advice that I give myself, stay focused, pay attention, ask as many questions as humanly possible, make the professors earn their pay, participate in group activities, get a mentor, apply for as many scholarships as you can, utilize the help of tutors, google, and You Tube, have faith in yourself, don’t compare yourself to anyone else, you are what makes you unique, take care of yourself physically mentally and spiritually, don’t worry if your ideas don’t sound like everyone else’s that could actually be your advantage.
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
I’ve experienced many hardships on my pursuit to licensure, homelessness, the death of a parent, divorce, racism, physical and mental exhaustion from being a parent and a student working multiple jobs, and of course wondering how I’m going to get through school without incurring thousands of dollars of debt. What helped me overcome all of those things was and is my belief that God is always with me, helping, me, and He will always see me through every situation, my belief in myself, practicing positive self talk, remembering to be grateful, all of the love and support from the amazing people in my life. And focusing on all the good that I have going for me.
How important is representation?
I almost hate this question because it always seems to be asked to the most underrepresented people. Representation is very important. It’s vital! Without it you basically don’t exist. It’s the equivalent of having a head with no eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or neck, Without those things what’s the point of having a head?