As of late the dialogue of the planning world has been revolved around COVID-19 and the impact it's having on Black communities. Particularly, the "mystery" behind the unprecedented hit it's taking on the Black community... after reading a few articles, getting overwhelmed with the stupidity of some posts, and the overbearing amount of shares regarding this "new" information I felt that lil' fire of inspiration to write this. What you read may offend you, although it shouldn't, but some people are super uncomfortable acknowledging the elephant in the room...being Black in America has ALWAYS been this way.
I recently read "The Color of Law" (great book, by the way) and I'm not gonna lie - I definitely felt some type of way after every chapter. So much so that I had to stop a few times to compose myself in some of the things I read - it was a hard to accept the reality of how just being BLACK literally caused so much planned systematic racism for superiority. I honestly believe that book alone changed the trajectory of how I approach life but more so how I approach my profession - a Black, female, Urban Planner in a profession that purposely designed policies to hold back people that look like me. Talk about divine intervention, sheesh. That's why I'm going to continuously advocate, be annoying, and push the narrative for more BLACK PLANNERS as hard (and seemingly professional) as possible until my career ends. And probably after that too.. representation matters and at this point I don't care who agrees/disagrees. We need that - period. *This post is gonna be a long and very #ProBlack one so respect/recognize that as you read.*
The recent reiteration of impacts that have long destroyed Black communities in light of COVID-19, is an even better depiction of how much we need more of us doing what urban planners do. Black communities have been at a disadvantage in almost every realm - housing, education (formal and higher ed), job opportunities, access to suitable lifestyles, access to transportation, access to needed services/resources...you get the picture. COVID-19 reexamines research and well-known facts that most people in this field or that are Black probably already know - we're quite familiar with the struggle and adversity are ancestors endured at the "pen" of our profession. As I read through some of the numbers reflecting the rate of Black folks dying from COVID-19 I can't help but to also think how many folks die from health issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity along with those that are incarcerated, those that have died from gang violence/gang involvement, those that have died from simply being Black - this is from a system constructed to derail and dehumanize us. I bet the numbers don't even come close.. As somber as it sounds, this is the reality of what many Black communities face every day - this pandemic has only put a brief spotlight on what decades of intentional and systematic racism created.
It's tough to discuss this with non-POC planners, hell with Black planners and even with Black people sometimes. It's by far one of the most uncomfortable, unsolicited topics in the planning profession; but why? I, like many of my colleagues that are Black, understand the gist of social justice issues in every day life plus those present in our career, but we signed up for this hoping to ignite change and dethrone bigots, elitists, and others with a 1950s mentality. I mean that's the main reason I got into planning if I'm being completely honest - I wanted to create change and explore inequities in minority neighborhoods/communities with special attention on Black communities. I'm not the savior of the race nor am I assuming all Black planners care about these things but I DO. It's the source of my inspiration, passion, motivation, and drive to keep going when the politics bullshit gets to me. That's why I decided to grow more into a Black Urban planner. I'm overly proud to say that I'm pro-Black in the work that I do because not too many people are saying it like that. My last semester of graduate school was when I realized how elitist some planning professionals were when they referred to Black and Brown communities - it pissed me off. I didn't feel as if I was "seasoned" enough to say anything because I was trying to get my foot in the door plus a lot of people told me to shy away from the "race thing". Lol no disrespect to those people but I'm apart of the "race thing" and I'm proud as hell to be one of the many champions advocating for more of us to change the tide in planning + design. I'm forever going to lend my voice to recognize how much love our communities need and how important it is for upcoming planners + designers to know they're not alone in this field. I'd be fake if I tried to speak on any other topic besides one I know like the back of my hand, right?
All that circles back to why I'm so demanding about representation when it comes to voicing needs, resources, ideas, development, and the like in Black communities - I take it to heart every time. Although I know it's business, well, to me it's community before anything when I research, read, and learn about other Black communities that I hope to design and collaborate with, so I'm gong into it with love before anything. That's one of my innate characteristics though - people over profit every single time. When you scan a room of high-profile folks and see no one that looks like you, your confidence sinks a bit but then you do see someone, they approach you, and an organic conversation flows now you're way more at ease - that's how powerful representation can be. The impacts are greater than even I really knew when I started focusing more on it - I recently had an aspiring planner in school reach out to me and flat out ask, "What's it like being Black in the planning field?". I was excited to answer but also a little apprehensive because that's a normal concern/worry for most new and early Black planning professionals these days - even I ask this question because I wanna know what the diversity (or lack of) is. I write from a Black woman's perspective in urban planning, as the lens is quite different than what is typically seen/heard in the planning + design world, and I feel good as hell about being 1000% Black in my rhetoric.
I wear sneakers to sites and certain meetings, I bring up Nipsey Hussle often, I refer to redlining and other racists tactics as the base of my long term goals, I talk about hip=hop that influenced me along with athletes that inspired me, I talk about the hood pretty openly and comfortably and so on, simply because, I can and I know it well. All that is what urban planning + design means to ME. Those things are little pieces of the puzzle that led me to this career path and I'd be doing them a disservice if I didn't show proper respect in how they've groomed my thinking, my interaction/communication skills, and a host of other skills that have aided in my professional growth. I'd be downing the culture that inspires me to raise hell! In reality, I'm so proud to be a Black Urban planner because I've seen the effects of policies on my family, on my grandparents, on a place I call home and other places I've visited - I'm truly honored to be able to do what I do for Black communities, because those before me really couldn't without fear and hate. I feel as though it's only right for me to continue building this legacy of phenomenal Black planners, designers, architects, engineers, landscape architects, and other professions that contribute to planning/development. With that comes a little bit of resistance to who you "support" so vocally but I have to remind folks I'm Black before anything else so it's not support; it's LOVE - don't ever get the two twisted. Even with that, I vocalize my feelings just as heavy for all minority communities who need more from planning, more genuine implementation, more doing, less false promises and the like - they deserve better from us as planners, period.
Moral of the story - I could never change where my heart led me. And that's to uplift, empower, educate, and inspire Black communities through planning + design. Really the kids that call these places home without a positive viewpoint of what people with power do for them - changing the narrative of that entirely is the goal. If all I ever do in this career path is be a lil' inspiration to kids/young adults that care or don't care about planning I'll be more than satisfied. When they see a Black professional (not an athlete) creating, engaging and interacting in their city with nothing but love - I hope they get excited and inspired to make an impact in their communities. I can retire from this happy and fulfilled as hell knowing that. Urban planners, especially Black urban planners, need the kids/young adults in Black communities more than we know. If you're a Black urban planner, live in your truth whole=heartedly and unapologetic af honestly! Be a light to others in the field at every level and remember: we have to motivate and mentor those coming after us.
Black first, urban planner second. I love the perspective and scope being Black has allowed me to see that others can't - it's like I always have a backstage pass lol. Unapologetically Black in and outside of my profession because it's who I am and what I know. #BlackExcellence and #blackjoy on a trillion and one - for the culture and for the future; we got us.
"I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”~Muhammad Ali
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