To make a revolution, people must not only struggle against existing institutions. They must make a philosophical/spiritual leap and become more ‘human’ human beings. In order to change/transform the world, they must change/transform themselves. — Grace Lee Boggs
The Open Architecture Collaborative was formed to support designers to use their skills towards meaning and impact. After reflecting on a long history of community design and learning from those like Grace Lee Boggs, we launched Pathways to Equity two and a half years later. As our collective consciousness begins to wake up to the truths of injustice, systemic oppression and institutionalized racism, we must go beyond passive discontent to active allyship. Pathways to Equity makes space for us to be vulnerable with each other, and explore who we are and what we bring to this work. This program positions us to re-learn building trust and to challenge patriarchal systems with the support necessary to effect change.
This program seeks to develop self-aware practitioners, four community driven projects, community members who are agents of change in their communities, and long lasting relationships. To accomplish this the program team expanded from its two program directors, Garrett Jacobs and Shalini Agrawal, to include twenty-three fellows, seven community partners, and eight community leaders and trainers, not to mention a broad range of advisors. Two full weekends were devoted to building the bonds of a supportive practitioner community and setting the foundation for seven months of programming.
Inaugural Trainings and Community Building
On Saturday September 16th twenty six people cautiously entered Chapter 510, The Department of Make Believe in downtown Oakland without much insight around what would happen. The lessons began with personal introductions and backstories that emerged from their diverse lived experiences. These were four days of in depth community building and venturing into the unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable territory of our vulnerabilities. We were pouring the proverbial foundation with an aggregate of trust, mutual respect and understanding.
The fellows represent many fields including architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, economic development, affordable housing real estate development, law, non-profit management, capital investment, environmental health, and impact investment analysis. They are: Alex Anderson, Alicia Parker, Allison Eckert, Brianne Pham, Bridgett Simmons, Gina Bugiada, Jason Su, Jessica Jobe Sea, Jillian Solomon, Karen Coronel, Kate Spacek, Kelly Gregory, Kion Sawney, Lindsey Yuen, Louise Mackie, Lucia Castello, Nnamdi Ihemelu, Ramy Kim, Samantha Rose, Sandy Mendler, Sarah Letson, Shruti Nagarajan and Yarden Harari. We are thrilled that each of the fellows has committed to joining us for this inaugural journey, and will have an active role in shaping the program. You can read their bios on the Pathways to Equity website.
Throughout the initial weekend, we put Grace Lee Boggs’ words into action. We deepened our awareness of self and the spectrum of our identities. We heard about the lived experiences from local leaders who confront the effects of white supremacy, systemic oppression and racism, and uneven balance of power on a daily basis. We learned how trauma affects our bodies, and is embedded in communities for generations. These sessions helped us understand the importance of bringing equity into reach for a sustainable future.
We were guided through interactive conversations and workshops from David Clifford, founder of Design School X; Carlee Adamson, Somatic Training and Trauma Literacy and Equity Coach; Carl Anthony, architect, author and urban / suburban / regional design strategist and co-founder of the Breakthrough Communities Project; and Ms. Margaret Gordon, a lifetime community activist, organizer and founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project.
Pathways to Equity strives to keep the focus on community, connections, and relationships. Each training taught us a bit more about ourselves. We kicked off the third day hearing from our community partners, listening to stories of their organizations over shared meals. Urban planner James Rojas set the stage for co-creating with community by sharing his methods of inclusive and meaningful community planning and prompted us to build our favorite childhood memory. Community Facilitator Susana Morales kicked off the team formation process, asking fellows to consider balancing their skills and interests with their aspirations. Fellows were challenged to set aside their fears, share their dreams, and of course fill some Post-It notes. As fellows surfaced the many characteristics of teamwork, people shifted and teams emerged. Peaceably.
The fellows selected their community organization to collaborate with for the next seven months. The decision to pair workshop learning with hands-on project efforts is a direct response to feedback from volunteer community programs and project management. The initial community partners represent three pressing social issues in the Bay Area: homelessness, neighborhood identity, and environmental justice. This process will begin with three months of relationship and trust building, needs assessment, and coalition building. The process is intentionally relational, centering the time needed for authentic engagement and understanding, rather than driven by outcomes or project programming. Our community partners are:
West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project — In Oakland, with a focus on environmental justice and equitable economic development.
Oakland Chinatown Collaborative of Chinatown Improvement Initiative, Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, and the Oakland Asian Cultural Center — In Oakland, with a focus on supporting equitable infrastructure development, workforce development and neighborhood identity.
Compass Family Services — In San Francisco, with a focus on providing welcoming and used spaces for program participants transitioning and permanent housing.
St. Anthony Foundation — In San Francisco, with a focus on investigating service delivery, the effects of trauma, and the physical spaces used by their guests.
Intention At Every Turn
Pathways to Equity is intentionally allocating its funds to support mission aligned organizations with almost all program decisions, from the venue, to the food, to the workshop trainers. Our location host, Chapter 510 and the Department of Make Believe provides literacy programs to Oakland youth. Throughout the weekends, we were luxuriously fed by Reem’s, a Palestinian restaurant founded by a local organizer; Food Shift, a food waste reduction program of the Earth Island Institute; and Mamacitas Cafe, a local business supporting young women of color. Food is nourishment, community building and cultural.
The final day of workshops provided fellows with the tangible skills needed to engage with their partners throughout the next seven months. Cultural anthropologist Angela Zusman of Story for All shared best practices around the importance of holding personal stories and conducting community interviews. The last workshop of the weekend was facilitated by Francis Calpotura, community organizer and Founder/Executive Director of TIGRA/In-Advance, where he shared his methodology for understanding organizations’ theories of change and how to shift the power from advocates and agencies to the community members.
Philanthropic and Industry Support
This program has been developed with a consortium of collaborators over the course of more than two years. Milestones include a grant application and award for National Endowment of the Arts with Theresa Hwang of ACD and Allan “Gunner” Gunn of Aspiration. The NEA grant was matched by the Curry Stone Foundation. This week, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund granted funding to support each team with a project budget. Many informative conversations with firm principals around the Bay Area contributed insight to funding models, scheduling, and marketing tactics. We would like to thank the following partner firms for supporting the development of their staff, committing to the development of community engaged design, and being a partner with us in this new initiative. If you are interested in staying more deeply engaged from afar let us know, we’ll have programming for you soon.
Firms who supported the program by sending staff have a deep awareness of the knowledge still to learn and the benefits that might emerge. For instance:
Noll & Tam Architects is so pleased to be a firm partner in the ground-breaking Pathways to Equity program furthering social equity through community design engagement and hands on mentoring. It is so exciting to be part of a prototype model that brings together committed professionals at all stages of development, around a collective vision to create more inclusive, revitalized communities. Upon the foundation of this growing network of design practitioners, I know that we can make a difference. Janet Tam AIA, LEED® AP BD+C, Principal Noll & Tam Architecture
The Open Architecture Collaborative can provide much valued design thinking to underserved communities in our area, we hope that TEF can become a great ally to, and advocate for, these communities. Doug Tom FAIA, Principal TEF Architecture
The Pathways to Equity Fellowship program perfectly aligns with Gyroscope’s core values of inclusion, access, co-creation, equity, diversity, and community building. As a museum planning, architecture and design firm working in cities across the country, it’s vital to sharpen our designer’s skills in active, careful listening, respect, and cultural humility. Supporting staff enrolled in this process is a no brainer. All architects should be required to enroll. Maeryta Medrano, AIA, LEED® AP Founder and President Gyroscope Inc.
As the Pathways to Equity progresses in the coming months, the stories of engagement, project development, and personal reflection will be told by the fellows. The impact of their work will be shared by our community partners, and the emergent projects will take shape. Stay tuned to hear all about the experience. And to see if you would like to host the program in your own city…
Finally we leave you with a future organizer in training — Daisy.