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APA + Black Voices - I'm Published?

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

So I've been critical of APA (American Planning Association) with how they've handled the way race impacts what we do as urban planners - I spared them no mercy for lack of better words. That doesn't come from just an immediate disdain of APA as an organization but more of a gradual mental note of how APA has handled other instances of "equity" as it relates to race, gentrification, and development. so it wasn't a big surprise when they released the sub=par statement they did regarding the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Abrery at the hands of white entitlement. I think a bigger part of me was disappointed but a bigger part of me didn't expect them to say much more than the half-ass statement they posted - nonetheless they don't get a pass.

If you're a professional planner of some sort then APA is the main organization talked about and showcased as the place to be for growth in this field. In some ways it's kind of force fed to us, especially in graduate school, as we have to join in order to gain any traction or secure a planning job; it's actually some type of bullying that makes sure you're paying your dues/membership fees after your student discount expires. All in all, I wasn't in love with APA but I did find some worthy articles, publications, and even my current mentor because of it, so it's an ongoing battle of wtf and yeah I guess I'll keep my membership current.

I say allll that to say somehow I ended up writing and being published in APA's Viewpoint op-ed magazine - what a dumbass lol. After I posted the video about racism in urban planning and how our profession created the shit show we're living in right now an editor from the Viewpoint op-ed magazine reached out to me to write a piece about how I really felt about equity in urban planning as a Black planner, I was caught off guard by it but also overwhelmed with emotion that she actually hit me up. I wasn't sure of what to think of taking on the task nor did I know how much I'd be censored considering how raw/uncut that video was - I didn't want to be involved with it if they were only going to change my words and make them sound white-washed. To my surprise, it was the complete opposite once I accepted the project and began meeting with the editor. Lindsay Nieman is amazing, let me say that. Yes, she's white but she was receptive of my views and words about how poorly APA had been representing Black planners along with the lack of visible Black planners, I even told her how I really felt about that statement APA put out, that's how uncut our conversations were.

In a time where I'm asked often to describe my experience as a Black female, a Black urban planner, and the like, it's draining in ways that go beyond just mental strain - I'm honestly a google site for "Black planner problems" from some of the people that reached out to me. Most of me thinks it's in good nature but I was still just over it so when I spoke with LIndsay before my first draft was due the whole tone was different in regards to the apparent emotional labor it would take plus the concept of verbally expressing my disdain for my own profession. Granted, I still felt iffy about what APA's plan was moving forward. I felt as though I had an opportunity to be some (small) voice in an organization with national notoriety that I felt wasn't doing nearly enough to show solidarity or support for its Black planners and Black people/communities. The same Black communities so many "planning leaders" like Daniel Burnham, Robert Moses, and so on, purposefully destroyed through race-based planning policies. I was beat by that notion to the point that I told her my first draft would be heavy on the truth and she accepted that with no hesitation. Despite that feeling of uncertainty I moved forward with the article and was shocked to see that hardly any of my voice had been altered or watered down for white readers - shit was crazy lol. My ignorant ass writing a piece on racial equity in urban planning for APA, the NATIONAL planning organization - it sounded crazy just typing. But here it was, happening in front of my eyes, in a two draft turnaround. I felt a gleam of hope as we wrapped up drafts, artwork, and final revisions.

I didn't tell anyone about it because I still wasn't sure how to approach it myself quite frankly. I felt like a sellout in some aspects because I had written the piece but then I felt proud as hell because APA always seemed so to unreachable in regards to being published or having OUR voices heard. Ultimately, that feeling outweighed the feeling of being a "sellout"... I never had to change my vernacular to fit the "style" of the piece or be somewhat censored based on how I was asked to express myself. My article was truly 100% all ME - the way it should be.

With that said, I'm (still) hyped as hell to see my piece on the APA website and have people reading/talking about something I wrote! It seems small but it's really major when it comes to down recognizing we exist in urban planning and we exist fierce as hell despite what barriers/challenges were put in front of us. I'm not the answer or the satisfying factor to APA addressing and amplifying Black/POC planner voices but I do think I'm one of the voices that started the real desire to make them they see US. I hope other Black planners out there can come across it and resonate with it in some way or another, just to know what they feel as the weight of the world is valid and that they are valued in this profession regardless of what it may look like. I guess it fulfilled a big part of what I've always preached since transforming my social media - REPRESENTATION MATTERS!! I want us all to win and I want to make sure APA recognizes we're going to win; with or without their support. People like Lindsay are a good start to dismantling and transforming the culture of APA but it's not nearly enough, especially in times like now. Nonetheless, APA's role in speaking up has shown me that I should be the impact/change I wanna see for people and communities that look like me FIRST. I will always hold APA (and other national organizations) to a high level of accountability but I won't put all eggs in their basket knowing impact can be made anywhere with the right people.

So, thank you APA for igniting the fire in me to keep pushing for change, in my community and in our profession because it's apparent we still have a long way to go. That's okay though, this only my 2nd year as a practicing planner so I'm really just getting warmed up making y'all see us and amplify our voices :) Shout out and an immense amount of love to LIndsay at the Viewpoint magazine because without her I'm not sure I would've been able to be in this position. She nurtured the process, sat and LISTENED in every call regarding my expression towards race + urban planning and never tried to have control - she respected my space as a Black planner but more importantly, as a Black person. On top of the fact that she allowed me the creative freedom to really write from the Black planner perspective, unfiltered and raw, which is something I don't see often. Let's keep finding ways to amplify Black planner voices and make sure to keep causing good trouble in our profession/APA!!

Oh yeah...if you wanna read my lil' piece here's the link - Let me know what you think! And reach out to Lindsay if you're interested in writing something too! She's down to earth and I made it a point to say that the first thing APA can do right now for US is to AMPLIFY OUR VOICES!!! So yeah lol.

Make sure they put a capital "B" when they reference BLACK URBAN PLANNERS! PERIOD.

"How can we guide communities of color with the promise of equity when we have yet to see true racial equity embraced in our offices, practices, policies, degree programs, and national organizations?" ~Desiree D. Powell

yours truly...

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Desiree, thanks for giving APA the benefit of the doubt and writing that Viewpoint column. It was 100% on point - a message APA members need to see. Lindsay is a real gem (and I’m not just saying that because she’s one of my staff), and we’re lucky to have her. Believe it or not, there are many more like her on the APA team who are ready to walk the walk! Is APA perfect? Hell no! But few organizations like ours are - we all have baggage. As we start walking, we know we need to take cues from people like you, listening and learning, and finding our own way. We’re not going to get it right all the…

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