#MentorMonday: Marsha McDonald
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.
Kingston, Jamaica (Currently in Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
What/who sparked your interest in Architecture and when?
Architecture has been never a word I understood until age 13, Construction yes, Design yes, even Environment but I discovered Architecture as an embodiment of those concepts when I need to advance to the next level in my school. Being from the Caribbean, Jamaica specifically, we progress from grade 9 to grade 10 by selecting our exam subjects. To help with the selection, our guidance counselors gave us career test and I scored highest in two areas, of which Architecture was one. Upon further researching, I discovered more about the profession and found flexibility, creativity, concern for people and a love for design which are my core values.
What does it mean to be a black architect/ designer to you? Do you feel that you have more responsibility?
To be honest, I never thought about being a black architect/designer until I moved to the USA because where I am from, we are mostly black, so I had black colleagues, black professors, a black dean/ head of school, black office staff, black clients and black reviewers. It was not a concern until I got to the USA. So I don’t think of myself much more than a designer who is an architect in training who happens to be a black woman, which incidentally, is the first impression people have of me. Initially, I didn’t feel that I have the responsibility of a race per se, it’s more that I have the responsibility of being a human being and a good citizen. I felt that working and excelling to make my mother and my children proud was a priority. That being said, I became conscious of the environment I am in, and that being a black female designer/architect means that I do represent and it’s my responsibility to represent well.
What are some obstacles you’ve experienced or currently experiencing as a black architect/ designer?
Oh the usual…. Couldn’t get a job (this was 20 yrs ago), doubting my abilities and the best one… being told I wasn’t good enough to meet the client. I don’t dwell on it, because if I did, I wouldn’t keep pushing forward.
Should we ignore race in this profession?
If we have equity and open up opportunities at the same level of suppression, elimination and stagnation that was implemented, then maybe we can ignore race. There are institutions constructed on the backs of systematic racism that have to be dismantled and only if we correct these prevailing structures that was based on race can we ignore race.
If you could give advice to a black student in Architecture school right now, what would it be?
Work hard, pay attention to excelling in your work and network from now. Explore who you are and where you want to be in this profession. Ask questions and keep asking until you get the answer that informs you. Oh, and Network, Network, Network…..It’s not only what you know, it’s also who you know. Relationships are important, build them from now.
Describe a moment you were at your lowest on your pursuit to licensure and how did you overcome it?
When you have personal events happening, it can cause you to lose focus. As a wife, mother and pursuing a career, not everyone understands when you say you have to go home to care for your family, and the office is pulling an all-nighter or your spouse says why are you staying late working. I got it on both sides and it took a toll, so I choose to quit the office and focus on my family. I worked only projects which were not in conflict with home, especially with young children, I needed the flexibility to work remotely and choose my hours.
How important is representation?
Representation is essential. Not everyone has the vision to lead and push forward without an example, it’s why we all look for inspiration in previous work and in people who achieved ahead of us. I believe representation is so important that I researched on Culture and Community for my Master’s thesis and out of that created an annual talk series on “Diversity in Design Arts and Architecture” in 2016. In addition, I visited high schools and worked with Broward College “Upward Bound” Career Program, doing career talks both in person and virtually. I was a professor at Florida International University and also taught at the FIU Summer Studio and at Young Arts “Design Arts” scholarship program for high schoolers, because we need to see ourselves in all areas being fully represented. If we were to address representation from a historic standpoint, then we need to include the stories of the impact of Black Architects and designers. If we were to address representation from a social standpoint, then we need to educate more on the role of the architect /designer in communities and include cultural references. If we were to address representation from a numbers standpoint, let’s look at the ratio of black architects/designers compared to the ratio of blacks in our current population of approx. 13%, we realize that where we are…… 2% is too low.