Yesterday, as people nationwide protested the police killing of George Floyd and broader violence against Black Americans, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) announced a redefined mission. The organization and its current president, Kimberly Dowdell, had been working on creating a strategic plan for the group for several months but made the announcement last weekend as part of a way to address the events of the past week.
An announcement online stated that “NOMA’s mission, rooted in a rich legacy of activism, is to empower our local chapters and membership to foster justice and equity in communities of color through outreach, community advocacy, professional development, and design excellence.”
Dowdell announced the change in an open letter posted on NOMA’s website that contextualized the update in the history of racism and anti-Black violence in the United States. Connecting architects’ mission to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public, Dowdell asked, “As architects, how can we protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public if our country is not properly including Black Americans as full members of our society?”
The full, unedited letter is below:
The air in our nation is thick with a profound sense of grief and despair. Our collective air is so very thick that it’s literally hard to breathe. We struggle to grasp for air as we all navigate a global pandemic coupled with the deadly and pervasive virus called racism that has plagued America for over four centuries.
As the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), we are calling on our members and our broader professional community to condemn racism and take an active role in eliminating the racial biases that account for a myriad of social, economic, and health disparities, and most importantly, result in the loss of human lives – Black lives. As architects, we are professionally responsible for protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public. The tragic execution of Black Americans at the hands of people infected by racism has plagued our nation for generations.
On this day 99 years ago, the racially motivated burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma claimed the lives of over 300 Black residents who were thriving independently in their own community. Just this week, our nation is grappling with the senseless murder of George Floyd, and all of the countless names of Black men and women who have recently lost their lives as a result of hatred, sparked by the color of their skin.
As architects, how can we protect the health, safety and welfare of the public if our country is not properly including Black Americans as full members of our society? Black Americans and other people of color have been subjected to injustice and inequality for far too long. NOMA was founded in Detroit by twelve Black architects in 1971 on the heels of one of the most racially challenging eras in American history. Born out of the Civil Rights Movement, NOMA was formed for the purpose of minimizing the effect of racism on our profession. Today, NOMA must call for more. As an organization, we must BE more.
Over NOMA’s five decades of existence, we have borne witness to the seemingly endless tragedies perpetrated against Black Americans and people representing other communities of color. After careful consideration, NOMA has determined that this moment is ripe for us to take a far stronger stance. We have been advocating for justice throughout our history and now is the time to clearly articulate what matters to us the most.
Our existing mission is to champion diversity within the design professions by promoting the excellence, community engagement, and professional development of our members. While these issues remain important to us, we acknowledge that those words feel hollow in times such as this. Unfortunately, these trying times of racial unrest occur too frequently. While the recalibration of our mission has been in the works for quite some time, our national board has voted to enact NOMA’s new mission statement, effective immediately:
NOMA’s mission, rooted in a rich legacy of activism, is to empower our local chapters and membership to foster justice and equity in communities of color through outreach, community advocacy, professional development and design excellence.
To be clear, there is power in words and we did not simply rush to react to the current state of affairs. We have been in the process of adopting a new strategic plan for the past several months. In the near future, we will engage our local chapters to establish a revised set of aims and objectives to support our updated mission. NOMA’s mission had not changed in over a decade, and we are doing so today in order to better equip our members to be the change that we seek to design for our society. We are taking a stand, and we hope that you will stand with us.
With just over half a year left of my two year term as NOMA’s president, I am asking everyone to dig deep and help us battle the circumstances that not only result in racially motivated violence against people of color, but also prevent people of color from entering into and thriving in the profession of architecture. As a professional organization, our primary focus should be on supporting and serving our members. Right now, our members are hurting. This is traumatic. NOMA is here to address this pain in the best ways we know how. Before we can confidently advocate for greater economic opportunities for architects of color, we need to ensure that those very people are first able to breathe.
It so happens that my NOMA presidential platform for 2019-2020 is ALL in for NOMA. ALL is an acronym to promote diverse Access, Leadership and Legacy in the context of the profession of architecture. The other reason for using the word ALL is to signal that this is an effort that we need ALL people to join in. Broadly speaking, we should ALL be struggling to make sense of how our fellow humans are being mistreated. I encourage our White members and allies to take the lead in dismantling racism whenever you see it emerge.
We must all leverage our positions of privilege to help our most vulnerable citizens, neighbors and colleagues strive for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I urge you to consider what’s happening right now as an American problem that we must all face together. Can we collectively be ALL in for NOMA? More importantly, can we all be BRAVE, as in committing ourselves to the list of items below for which BRAVE is an acronym?
If we can promote these basic ideas in our firms, our organizations and in our communities, our nation will be better for it. Perhaps then, we can all breathe a little bit easier. Only then, can we target our energy and creativity towards designing a better world for all.
2019-2020 NOMA National President