A tremendous question for this 400th anniversary is: How are our cities planned and designed? How can they be used to liberate people from all forms of oppression?

Ifeoma Ebo

National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) & Founding Member BlackSpace Urbanist Collective

Believe the Hype:

A Global Collective of Industry Change Agents

October 16, 2019

Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn

The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) holds three major elements at its core: fostering communication among minority architects, fighting injustice, and motivating minority youth. The BlackSpace Urbanist Collective demands a present and future where Black people, Black culture and Black spaces matter and thrive.  Ifeoma Ebo, architect, NOMA member and founding member of the BlackSpace Urbanist Collective affirms the importance of inspiring young people. “They’re the future,” she says, “and they’re the ones that create the futures we may not be able to see.” 

Still, Ebo and her colleagues are creating a future in which Black spaces are protected, prioritized, and uplifted. She’s a board founding board member at BlackSpace, a national collective of Black urban planners, architects, artists, activists, and designers, seeking to, among many other things, “reckon with the past to build the future.” 

Noticing an alignment between the 400 Years of Inequality call, and the 47th annual NOMA conference held in Brooklyn, the New York Coalition of Black Architects (NY Chapter of NOMA) and BlackSpace proved to be natural partners. Along with the Weeksville Heritage Center, they organized Believe the Hype: A Global Collective of Industry Change Agents. It convened more than 40 students of Mott Hall Bridges Academy (MHBA) in Brownsville, Brooklyn, combining history, outdoor games, art, and design—galvanizing students not just to create, but to reimagine how space can honor heritage and preserve culture.

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We push ourselves so we may realize a future where Black people, Black spaces, and Black culture matter and thrive.

BlackSpace Urbanist Collective

Nestled in central Brooklyn, the Weeksville Heritage Center preserves the history of Weeksville, one of the largest pre-Civil War, free Black communities in America. The Center is a multidisciplinary museum, fusing education, arts, and social justice, and inspiring community engagement through its own historic preservation. Designed by a Black architect and a Black landscape architect, Weeksville is living evidence of ancestral bonds and the culture they carry.

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On October 16th, 2019, Believe the Hype featured the architects and landscape architects behind Weeksville Heritage Center, who presented their original proposal to the students and answered questions from participants.

Elizabeth Kennedy

Landscape Architect EKLA,PLLC

Everado Jefferson & Sara Caples

Caples Jefferson Architects

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00:00 / 01:43
00:00 / 01:08

By the end of the conference, the students would each design their own Black Space, and Weeksville—its grounds and its history—would serve as their template for the challenge. 

 

Don’t just consider your Black ancestors, they said, but also yourselves: your future, and that of residents in modern-day Brooklyn.

The students embarked on a lively scavenger hunt and historic tour of Weeksville. Using prompts from University of Orange, they wrote love letters and poems to each inspiration they found: building, rock, or tree.

For BlackSpace, their own manifesto serves to guide their growth as a group and their interactions with partners and communities. “We created fourteen principles for practitioners who are designing and planning in Black communities,” said Ebo, “and we integrated those principles into every aspect of the conference.” This way, the students would understand the heart and spirituality inherent in the spatial design process. 

 

At the close of the day, the students presented their concepts before a panel of judges, collecting a $1,000 donation to MHB Academy for future programming.

Each student-designed Black Space required the creation of a manifesto, too. Some incorporated jazz or hip-hop in their cultural center designs. Others focused on nature, like historic African-American use of trees, greening, and gardening

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Meaningfully acknowledge the histories, injustice, innovations, and victories of spaces and places before new work begins. Reckon with the past as a means of healing, building trust, and deepening understanding of self and others.

BlackSpace Manifesto