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Reprinted in its entirety from the DC NOMA, January 18, 2021
As we celebrate the life, times and accomplishments of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we find our country is at an inflection point in our history as the great experiment of a democratic society. Everything he stood for and gave his life for has been put to a test in a moment we have not seen since the time of the Civil War and fight for civil rights. The clarion call for justice was heard ubiquitously in our witnessing of the murder of George Floyd. All calls for justice, equity and inclusion have now become a part of our collective consciousness and our national lexicon.
Leaders such as Dr. King, Malcom X, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln provided a metaphorical mirror to our society and our times. The reflection in the mirror, as we are witnessing today, gives pause to those of us who seek what is righteous and good for all humanity. Just as we are globally fighting an infectious virus, our society is also being invaded by a “political virus” for which we have not yet discovered a vaccine.
As I write this reflection for our Washington DC Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (DCNOMA), I think back to my time as an eleven-year-old and how our city was in a form of lockdown in the aftermath of riots during the spring of 1968, after the assassination of Dr. King. I have recently written about this event in an article for the Washington Business Journal, concerning the resulting effect on my career as an architect. Just as it was then, our city is once again the focus of unbridled rage that now has the attention of the world. We have seen what we could never have imagined during last year’s celebration of Dr. King’s life.
As an African-American I, like others, am the beneficiary of what Dr. King fought for — the freedom of our generation to pursue our careers and livelihoods. These efforts have allowed us to be part of and contributors to our American society.
Those of us NOMA members who are at a certain stage in our careers are catalysts for change in our profession. We must open the doors for the next generation of minority architects. We are rungs in the ladder to their success so they may thrive and fully participate in the care of our natural and built environment. The diversity of the planners, designers, and architects of our communities — now and in the future — is imperative to the well-being and progress of our society. We must not squander the opportunity that the likes of Dr. King and his generation have afforded us.
The door is now open for true equity and inclusion in our profession.
We are now having tough and transparent conversations about diversity in the practice of architecture. I hope we now understand that there are benefits to all of us through equity and inclusion. More importantly, our communities need us and we must continue to challenge the status quo. We have an opportunity for a course correction, starting with a change in our political administration on January 20th, the same week as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with socially distanced and virtual celebrations. In what we do as architects, we have the chance to be effective and relevant as a profession that is united, as experts on policy and development, and as stewards of our society.
As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” With the many discussions and dialogue from this summer about fair and balanced representation in the profession of architecture, perhaps we are heading in the right direction towards justice. Let’s stay vigilant!
Michael Marshall, AIA, NOMA, NCARB