#MentorMonday: James Garrett Jr., AIA, NOMA

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.

Name:

James Garrett Jr., AIA, NOMA

Hometown:

(born) Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas, USVI

(raised) Saint Paul, MN

What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?

I was attracted to buildings and cities from my earliest memories playing with Legos and making art. My parents nurtured my curiosity and talent by taking me to bigger cities like Chicago and Los Angeles to tour the tallest buildings and explore the different neighborhoods. There was never a doubt in my mind that one day I would become an architect.

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

Being a black architect is a great source of pride for me. I understand our history of greatness and my work honors the pioneers who have paved a way for me (e.g. Clarence ‘Cap’ Wigington, Paul R. Williams, et. al). 

I definitely feel a high level of responsibility to safeguard the interests and amplify the voices of people in underserved, under-represented, communities.

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

I have experienced obstacles to entry into this profession at every level; 

high school (not being allowed to take the architecture course offered) 

college (a professor who refused to call me by my name)

graduate school (professors who withheld grades and discouraged me from continuing)

as an architect-in-training (often found myself on the losing end of office politics)

and as an entrepreneur (it has been difficult to get beyond ‘suspension of disbelief’ by clients and contractors)

Should we ignore race in this profession?

We should celebrate race, ethnicity, and all that makes our contributions to this profession unique and wonderful.

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

Find your own authentic voice and use your time to explore specific areas of interest that may translate into practice someday.

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

My lowest point was having to confront the frustration of failing my final ARE exam (PPP) twice, knowing that I had to wait yet another 6 months to try again. I knew the information, I had studied the same way for the others that I had passed, I had no idea why I was stuck. I reached out to a colleague who had passed the exam and was leading AIA study sessions for ARE. We went to lunch one day where I vented my frustrations, he listened patiently, then calmly told me that he was confident that I knew the material and that the 3rd time would be the charm. It was, I passed my final exam on the 3rd attempt and advanced into licensure.

How important is representation?

Representation is very important. When people can see themselves represented in something, they can visualize themselves achieving that thing.



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