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50 Years of Diversity in Atlanta
By: Corey Riley, AIA, NOMA
     The year is 1963, and little did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement know it at the time, but they were embarking on a historic event that would become a catalyst in reshaping the face of our nation. The day was August 28th and Washington D.C became the epicenter of America where hundreds of thousands gathered in unified support of a noble cause, to speak out on issues of jobs and freedom.  People from all nationalities and all walks of life allowed their voices to be heard simply with their presence on the National Mall. The apex of this grand event was capped off by the now famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Dr. King as he spoke out to the world on equality for all men and women.

     In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the Atlanta Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) presented a series of events entitled “50 Years of Diversity in Atlanta's AEC Community; Celebrating our Trailblazers of Change” acknowledging the impact of these trailblazers and 50 years of diversity in Atlanta’s architecture, engineering and construction industries.  In essence, NOMA Atlanta set out to celebrate the achievements of the past and the significance of the March on Washington, making note of present day successes and delving into what the future holds for continued progress in diversity within the Atlanta’s AEC community.

     Fifty years to the day, on August 28th 2013, in the city of Atlanta, the home town of Dr. King, NOMA Atlanta held the first of two events commemorating the March on Washington and the influences it had on diversity in the AEC Community. The event was held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead.  The event honored four trailblazers of the AEC community - Engineer Charles Johnson Sr. PE.; Architect Charles McAfee FAIA, NOMA; Architect Joseph W. Robinson Sr. FAIA, NOMA and Contractor and Developer Herman J. Russell - who through the trying times of the civil rights movement, were able to achieve great success in their respective professions.  Their successes were a direct result of the efforts and sacrifice set forth by Dr. King, other leaders of the movement and everyday citizens who fought for the equality of all.

        This commemorative event paid homage to these trailblazers through the words of their children, each of who followed in the success of their fathers. Cheryl L. McAfee, FAIA, NOMA; Charles “Chuck” Johnson II; Jeffrey Robinson  AIA, NOMA and Michael Russell presented a unique perspective on what it was like to grow up under these trailblazers and the impact it had on their lives; as well as the lives of others in the community.  They also spoke on how the March on Washington and the Civil Rights Movement as a whole had an effect on them personally and professionally as well as how they see the profession moving forward past the obstacles and challenges we still face today in the realm of diversity, fifty years later.

      Part two in the celebration featured the “Trailblazers of Change” round table lecture event that was held in the Reinsch-Pierce Family Auditorium at the College of Architecture on the campus of Georgia Tech as a part of their School of Architecture Lecture Series. The panel included prominent voices of Atlanta including business owners, government officials and community advocates who have a deep and intimate historic knowledge of our city and a forward-facing vision for its future Panelist presented a candid discussion on how Atlanta has changed over the past 50 years and where it must go to solidify its place in America as a great city.  Moderated by CBS Atlanta’s Stefan Chase, the panel included Angela Hinton, Chief Counsel, City of Atlanta; T. Foster Lynn, AIA, Principal Vice President Corporate Quality with TVS Design; William J. Stanley III, FAIA, NOMA co-founder of Stanley Love-Stanley P.C; Oscar L Harris, FAIA with Turner Associates Architects and Planners Inc.; Ivory Lee Young Jr., Atlanta City Councilmember, District 3 and Kimberly Stanley, AIA, Principal with Stanley Beaman & Sears. NOMA Atlanta also partnered with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (NCCHR) which used the program in their “65 Days Celebrating the 65th Year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” to ramp up awareness for opening of Center in May 2014.

     Tying these two events together was a project entitled “The Architecture Diversity Project” which explored people's thoughts on how far we have progressed in the profession of architecture in relation to diversity and equity in key areas such as career progression, education, licensure, firm ownership and private practice of architecture distilled down to just six words. Drawing inspiration from journalist and NPR radio host Michelle Norris and her project entitled “The Race Card Project”; those in the AEC community were asked to submit their six word essays on our project webpage, Facebook and Twitter. NOMA Atlanta partnered with NOMA National and the AIA Diversity Council and engaged over 75 AEC professionals nationwide. Examples of their six-word essays are included below.

     In the past 50 years, progress has been made in the realm of diversity in the built environment. We’ve seen minorities become successful entrepreneurs, land developers, politicians and champions of the built environment.  However the voices heard on that August day in 1963 continue to resonate throughout America and there is still progress to be made. NOMA Atlanta’s 50th Anniversary celebration of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom not only paid homage to our “Trailblazers of Change”, but acknowledged the fruits of their labor through the successes of current day practitioners and opened up positive dialogue for what is needed to continue and improve on diversity in our industry, over the next 50 years.

Attendee Comments from 50th Anniversary Events:
“Great Talks! Inspirational Speakers….just what students need as role models to look up to!” – NOMAS Student
“The event was very fulfilling. It had great depth. It was inspiring!” Atlanta Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr.
Excerpts from “The Diversity Project” (six word essay on diversity in the AEC community)
"In education African architecture isn't recognized." Kathy D. Dixon
"Fear + ignorance = professions demise" Anita Clayton
"Would not be who I'm today" Stanford Britt