To celebrate Black History Month, AIANY WIA Committee had the pleasure of hosting “In Dialogue With…” Kelsey Jackson and Cheriyah Wilmot on Building Future Pathways for Black students. Kelsey and Cheriyah were recipients of the 2022 AIANY and Center for Architecture Common Bond Scholarship, awarded annually to outstanding architecture students.

During the “In Dialogue With…” event, Kelsey and Cheriyah shared their personal paths to architecture and the invaluable role of supportive family, professors, colleagues, and mentors in their success. Kelsey spoke at length about her mother advocating for her education toward becoming an architect and how it gave her the confidence to navigate unfamiliar and unwelcoming spaces. Cheriyah spoke about channeling the influence of her family and ethnic background to create a place for herself in architecture. This helped her to design with herself in mind despite not seeing herself reflected in architectural academia. Both Kelsey’s and Cheriyah’s stories were testaments to the value of mentorship, advocacy, and showing up as our most authentic selves to expand the profession.

Kelsey and Cheriyah challenged us to share our vision for the future of equity and inclusion in the profession as well as how we might arrive at that vision. The conversation that followed was moving in its vulnerability and inspiring in the insights shared among a group of cross-generational women practitioners.  We discussed the importance of leading and maintaining our authentic selves as we progress through our careers. By doing this, our confidence in ourselves would better guide us in our decisions, and allow our peers to see us for who we are and what we truly value. Our members opened up about the value of vulnerability in all seniority levels to state when we have concerns, need help, or felt not included, because it would help provide space for others to feel the same, and not feel pressured to always have everything covered, to be perfect, or to take on the burden of being the example of the only woman or person of color in the room. We noted that in order for us to achieve a world that is more equitable, we have to prioritize introducing architecture to students in middle school and high school, and as early as elementary school, to show them that architecture is a viable profession, while also making me sure we make ourselves available as mentors as their studies and careers develops. As Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”