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Letters to the editor: Thoughts from the ground

Feet on the Ground

Letters to the editor: Thoughts from the ground

Architect Lyssa Washington tends to the soil of the Philando Castile Peace Garden in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. (4RM+ULA)

I have been asked, even as early as Tuesday [May 26], to write a statement/reaction regarding the brutal and inhumane murder of George Floyd on May 25. I was, and still am, at a loss—disbelief, numb, angry, overwhelmed, and grieving. I could not watch the video; it was all around me (again). I look at his face—we have a tangential connection, but I don’t have to know him, because I know him. He’s reflected in my family, my friends, my friends’ children, my colleagues at 4RM+ULA (a black-owned firm).

I would be remiss if I did not mention the thousands of dark moments we have seen in recent years—walking home from the corner store, playing video games in a darkened house, reaching for a wallet, jogging, sleeping. I could go on with the circumstances and the names, but it would be a sad tome and so many names both widely spoken and many unspoken.

What a perfect storm we find ourselves in. Navigating devastating losses of lives and livelihood due to COVID-19, just as we were waking up from the slumber of the last squeaks of winter morphing into spring. Spring disappearing in a haze and the eager anticipation of reopening of Minnesota, only to find we were all a little scared, a little too nervous to congregate in ways we do every summer. And then, the powder keg of racial injustice goes off—the tipping point of tipping points and we find that it is bigger than us—fear, anger, frustration. We rally for change, peace, and justice. And it spreads—city to city, state to state, country to country. Please let this time be different.

I found myself where I needed to be much of last week.  It provided my hands movement, my mind clarity, a peaceful community, and reminded me where we have been and how much further we have to go. Almost five years ago, Philando Castile’s murder brought the darkness to our doorstep; two weeks ago, I was tending the soil at what will become a peace garden in his honor. Out of the ashes, a phoenix arises. This has taken hard work and dedication by his family and the community. We now find ourselves at the threshold of more work, more heavy lifting to push the agenda so that symbols of tragedy and horror can make way for peace and progress.

I asked several people in our MSP NOMA family to provide thoughts on how we as designers and people of color can work on fortifying the legacies in brick and mortar on behalf of the small business owner, the streets we live, work and play on. What role can we play in shifting the narrative from ash to phoenix? How can we reimagine a world where systemic oppression is gone from the physical form as we try to remove it from every other aspect of our collective beings? How do we go about creating space reflective of where we are going and not where have we been?

An african-american woman gardening in the sun
Architect Lyssa Washington tends to the soil of the Philando Castile Peace Garden in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. (4RM+ULA)

“Say something about the importance of rebuilding black-owned and minority businesses that have been damaged and how we can support that.”

“Say something about how communities that were already hard hit by COVID-19 are now suffering additional losses.”

“Say something about how our communities are grieving because of the systems in place that work against us.”

“Urge our professional and business allies to join and support us as we prepare to rebuild.”

“Make the injustice of George Floyd’s murder our focus, NOT the riots.”

In order to bring about change, we need to call it out. All of it. This is how many of us (more people than you think) walk through our day-to-day lives. You may not see it in your co-worker, the guy at your gym, the woman at the coffee shop. And please note, sometimes—actually, oftentimes—we are the only one in the proverbial “room” having to carry this load. Why is melanin a cross to bear?

Lyssa Washington, Assoc. AIA, NOMA, is the President of MSP AoA NOMA and project manager at 4RM+ULA.


decades of pent up frustration.

being subjected to a white supremacist system that is unresponsive to the basic human needs of far too many.

police responding to our protestors with tear gas and rubber bullets while empathy is shown for armed white supremacists and idiots demanding haircuts at the governor’s mansion and capitol.

Jamar Clark…and lies…and more tear gas.

Philando Castile…and acquittal.

Ahmaud, Breonna, and far too many names to recount here…over the years and across the miles.

“Minnesota Nice,” daily microaggressions, disrespect, and second-class citizenship that we are subjected to on a daily basis.

white privilege and the weaponizing of whiteness against black bodies…and law enforcement being complicit in this process.

acceptance of a permanent black/brown/red underclass in this community and across the country.

the stress of COVID-19 and the disproportionate suffering and tens of thousands of deaths in our communities.

our disproportionate role as essential workers at risk so that others can shelter-in-place comfortably.

the legacy of 400+ years of slavery and state-sanctioned terrorism, physical and economic violence against us…and the summary dismissal of even the idea of reparations for any of it.

this is a shitty place to be, and yet it is exactly where we are.

i am disheartened, disgusted, and numb beyond what took place last night [May 25], beyond the trauma of the televised snuff film/execution of a man I knew the day before yesterday, beyond the stress of exemplifying black excellence in places that secretly despise me, and the pressure of preparing two beautiful black boys for the reality that society will surely kick them in the teeth and may attempt to murder them for the crime of simply existing here.

i am sick and angry too…and very, very, tired.

James Garrett, Jr., AIA, NOMA, is a founding partner of 4RM+ULA and an AIA National 2019 Young Architects Award winner.