Jaline McPherson is currently an MLA candidate at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design, and is the co-chair for the 2019 Black in Design Conference.
If you're a long time listener of Revision Path, then you have definitely heard me sing the praises of the Black in Design Conference that takes place every other year at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. The next conference takes place in October, and I am thrilled to have the chance to talk with one of the current co-chairs Jaline McPherson.
Our conversation started off with a look into Jaline's background, and she talked about her interest in landscape architecture and how that led her to Harvard. Jaline also gave a little information on this year's conference, why the planning committee chose the theme of Black futurism, and what we can expect to learn. I'll definitely be there!
- 2019 Black in Design Conference Website
- 2019 Black in Design Conference on Instagram
- 2019 Black in Design Conference on Twitter
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Maurice Cherry: All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.
Jaline McPherson: My name is Jaline McPherson. I'm a current second year graduate student at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, studying landscape architecture.
Maurice Cherry: Tell us about the Harvard Graduate School. I don't know if people really knew that Harvard had a graduate school for design.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, and that was something I didn't know until I was looking at graduate schools. The Graduate School of Design is like this large school that has multiple concentrations such as architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, master's of design studies, and as well as many PhD programs. The school size right now is around 800 students, so it's pretty large for a design school. I studied architecture as an undergrad, but I only did a four year degree program. And so, I had known a little bit about the design school, mainly from architecture, but it's an amazing commune different people all in one building, studying all these different areas of design.
Maurice Cherry: You said you're studying landscape architecture, is that right?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, that's right.
Maurice Cherry: What appeals to you about landscape architecture?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, no, I think something that appeals to me about landscape architecture is really the broad range of possibilities that come with it. I guess you could say architectures focus primarily on the building and landscape. It's everything outside of that. And so, that encompasses a lot of different types of spaces and a lot of different scales of space. I'm really interested in more of the social aspect or public spaces within the urban city. That's kind of what drew me to study landscape. In my undergrad, I was always focused on thinking about the community of people that lived around public spaces or in buildings that we were designing for, and I always was really interested in thinking about, okay how do people move throughout space, or where do they interact? And kind of what are big places or opportunities to engage communities more, and give them access to green space, clean air and other opportunities for socialization.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I think when most people think about landscape architecture, they're thinking mostly about green space.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: And parks, things of that nature. I know here in Atlanta, we have so many little just pocket parks in a way, little parks just tucked in here and there. I think right now there's a proposal to build sort of part of a park over our highway, over one of the highways.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: But what are some of the other sorts of things that make up landscape architecture aside from that?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, that's a good point. I think it's easiest to describe people like, oh you know like park design. But they're actually a lot of different other types of public spaces. Plaza is one of the most famous places that a lot of people recognize as the high line. Also thinking about post industrial uses of spaces, there are also a lot of power and landscape where we have a lot of control of our sustainability so we can impact the environment in a positive way. There are a lot of initiatives happening right now in New York to protect the city against sea level rise. There are a lot of constructions happening along the coast, and we're seeing that development happen. There's a wide scale to thinking about design, both on a regional scale, but also there's smaller hard scape plans and thinking about outdoor malls, and plazas, and transportation gets looped into that as well.
Maurice Cherry: How does transportation get looped into that?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, I guess that was a big statement. No, but I think now that people are thinking about the future of driverless cars, now we're thinking about how we can retake over the street for pedestrians or maybe we won't need as many spaces for cars. I think there's a lot of pedestrian centered ideas about reconfiguring street spaces or, okay what happens if we take away highways from communities? Can we transform those spaces into other types of recreational use or ecological use?
Jaline McPherson: I think to bypass a really big, and thinking about circulation, so how do people move throughout spaces that can be both through cars, through highways, through airplanes, but also at the ground level of walking or biking throughout space. Those are factors I think that a lot of designers try to influence into their designs but also could be. The Highline is a completely new way of moving throughout New York city.
Maurice Cherry: Really, you have the opportunity to design on a bunch of different types of scales, it sounds like.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: You can do something really small like a Plaza.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: Or I'm saying a park, but even a park can range in size from really small to Central Park or something like that.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah. It's funny you said plaza too because I guess for our first semester at design school, we had to design from the small scale, so a courtyard. It was this teeny enclosed space. But it was really fun of what we can come up with. There were so many different ideas, and it was our first project. And then we ramped up in scale and thinking about Boston's City Hall Plaza, and that was seven and a half acres. And thinking about, okay, this is a hard scape space. We weren't allowed to use lawns or anything like that. It's completely like thinking about people moving freely and it had to be accessible to law students, like governmental building.
Jaline McPherson: And then our final design was ramped up in scale again, and it was thinking about waterfront, and design, and interaction between the city, and also recreational space. Yeah, it's definitely a wide range of scales that you can design and everything in between.
Maurice Cherry: I'm glad you mentioned accessibility. That's something that's been on my mind lately, mostly in the webspace. I'll bring this back to landscape architecture, so just walk with me here. I was reading this article this morning about how Domino's Pizza is trying to take a case all the way to the Supreme Court because a customer is suing them because their website's not accessible.
Jaline McPherson: Oh, wow.
Maurice Cherry: You're not able to access it on a screen reader. There has been other types of lawsuits that are like this. I think there was people that were trying to sue Beyonce because her website was not accessible. Granted, the web guidelines around accessibility normally tend to pertain to government sites in terms of enforceability. Beyonce's site is not a government site, neither is Domino's Pizza. However, what I found just in the web industry is that accessibility, it's a slippery scale. Some people really adhere to and others don't care about it at all. But when it comes to landscape architecture, accessibility is super important because all types of people have to move throughout spaces. How do you design for physical accessibility?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, no, that's a good question and I think it varies in the designer or what you're trying to achieve. Some people are very much like, oh we don't want this space to be accessed by masses amounts of people. It can be very dangerous or it could pose threats on large gatherings. But I think too, the more practical answer is, oh, in designing public spaces there are laws and codes like ADA accessibility laws that you have to abide for. But it's also, okay, now you can accept those code standards, or how do you truly make a space open? Then it raises more questions about who is allowed in what spaces and who isn't. That got really interesting. And especially in terms of the Plaza and how do you make a space feel comfortable for maybe a single person who's walking there or in their wheelchair. And then also, can this space accommodate large gatherings or protests? Does the public have a right to gather, and protest, and speak, and kind of connect in large groups. I don't know if that answers your question, but.
Maurice Cherry: No, that answered my question. It also made me think a little bit about this concept that I've heard of with defensive design where sometimes certain public spaces, like you say, are designed to keep people out. For example, park benches that may have a middle railing so no one can lay across them, or really low to the ground surfaces. They'll put little bumps or spikes on them so no one can sit comfortably on it. That reminded me of that.
Jaline McPherson: That definitely comes up a lot in design too. Then it gets extremely political all of a sudden. You're like okay, I just want to design this nice space that maybe people could have a lunch break on. But then I think too in the era of public safety and security, people get really nervous about okay who is sitting and lingering in these spaces. Yeah, it's a fine line, but I think it's also kind of exciting because you're giving a space where you don't necessarily know what will happen. In a park, in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, it's a wonderful space because when I go there I see people biking, doing Tai Chi, doing yoga with their dogs. There's not a set programmed area for that to happen. It just is able to happen. There are political statements that also happened there, so I think it's an exciting platform to be able to design within that.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. One thing when you talk about spaces like this, I'm thinking of how a few years ago there were a lot of public protests in the streets, some people were blocking highways and blocking major thoroughfares and things like that. I know here in Atlanta for example, there was a big complaint that people could walk down onto the highway. They're like, oh, why is that possible? Which almost doesn't make sense. Why wouldn't they? You can drive down there, why couldn't you walk down there? But no, it's interesting about the governance of different spaces for different types of people or even different just modes of transportation and things like that. There's more than I want to dive into with that topic. But I want to take it back a little bit. I'm really curious to know more about you and how you came to be studying at Harvard, talking about all this stuff. Where'd you grow up?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, definitely. I was born in New Jersey, but I grew up my whole life in Southwest Virginia, a little town called Roanoke, if anybody knows it. I'm the youngest of three girls. My mom, she's a New Yorker, and my dad was from Chicago. They're both from the big city. And then when they had me they decided they wanted to move down South and slow things down. And so, I grew up in Roanoke most of my life. I went to school with a lot of my friends, like kindergarten through high school and even some in college. I think it was a good community where everyone was really well connected and everyone knew each other. And so, growing up in a place like that was really unique as I'm learning. And then I went off to school to study architecture at the University of Virginia. I think how I got there was not a linear path at all, for anybody listening who's like, oh, how did you have it figured out?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I was curious has design been a big part of your childhood growing up? Were you surrounded by that?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, I think, I know one sense, I was surrounded by it and then I didn't really realize that until later. And now looking back I was like, oh my parents did a good job at teaching me how to do this or that. And so, my dad did many things. He also briefly worked in furniture procurement. And then, my mom went to fashion school for a little bit and then decided that wasn't for her. My grandma on my mom's side always painted and drew. And so ,my parents were good at exposing me to the arts very early, but I didn't realize that there were possible careers through design until high school. And yeah, so I was always interested in drawing and painting, but it was something I did just for fun.
Jaline McPherson: And then, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I thought that was what I was going to do. I very quickly realized I don't like hospitals, I'm very scared of blood and bodily fluids. And so, then I was like, oh my goodness, what am I going to do? I think I was 14, I was like, man, I just don't know what I'm going to study. And then my dad actually said, "What about architecture?" And then at that time, I had no idea what that field was. And I was like, what is this? In high school, I got to go to a couple design camps at Virginia Tech University. What was the other school? I went to another school, North Carolina State University. They had these summer design programs that my dad found and he's like, oh, you should go. and then you can test and see if you liked it.
Jaline McPherson: And so at first, it was just such a different way of thinking, and I was not really excited about it. But then I went on to study it in college, and it was very hard at first as I'm sure a lot of people feel when they first study architecture. But no, it turned out to be really amazing.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. From people who we've had on the show, we've had a couple of of architects on before and they have always talked about, the difficulty of I think just of course learning about the subject matter, but also a lot of those spaces are not super diverse. And so, if you're coming in there as "the other" then that just adds an element to the difficulty of studying and being in a space like that.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, absolutely. No one in my immediate family or anyone I knew of really studied architecture and so, that was a whole new learning environment for me. I went to school, and a lot of people, their parents had studied architecture or their uncle, and so they were already looped in the field. Yeah, it was very hard to understand the language, just even what architecture was. There was a difficult amount of learning that you have to do upfront, learning the software, but also a lot of technical skills that you need to acquire.
Maurice Cherry: But overall though, what was your time like at University of Virginia?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, I think overall it was really great because then my first year, they restarted ... I think it was my first year. Right before I got there, they restarted their NOMAS chapter. NOMAS is a National Organization for Minority Architecture Students. For me, I struggled at first to really find a community of people maybe that looked like me or had the same interest as me. But then I met some people through a student group, and they have national conferences that we got to attend to.
Jaline McPherson: And then seeing just all these other students who are going through similar feelings of exclusion maybe or being like, I'm not sure how I fit into this larger field, was really great. And then, my last two years at UV, I ended up being the president of the NOMAS chapter and then it was great to connect to different professionals within the field. I think they do a really great job at showcasing how you actually get licensed, and that was something I didn't even know. Like okay after school you actually have to get licensed and that's a whole process in itself. So no, it was great. It was tough at first undergrad, but then I ended up really enjoying it.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. I want to talk about of course, what you're doing right now at Harvard. Aside from education, you're one of the planners for the upcoming Black In Design conference. Now for those who are listening who might not be familiar with it, can you talk a little bit just about what the conference is?
Jaline McPherson: Sure, definitely. The Black In Design conference, we started in 2015 by the African American student union at Harvard. It was really I guess in response to a couple of different feelings that were going on in the school. In one sense, it was to very much carve out this space where people could have discussions about different topics in design or how diversity fits it within the design fields. I think it was also a response to including and recognizing professionals of a unique and more black background. Maybe there were recognized more minority architects and also designers within the field. Harvard does a great job at putting together a public program every year and getting guests lecturers. But I think at the time the school was, there felt a really big gap in how diverse those people were that were coming to Harvard.
Jaline McPherson: And so, I think it's a really great response and ended up being a really successful way to bring people together to hear these speakers, but also provide a space for collaboration both among students and professionals. Yeah, this will be the third conference. The second conference took place in 2017, and it's gotten a wonderful response both from attendees or current students. The administration at the GSD had been really excited about the conference. I think in 2017 it sold out, and so that was incredible to sell out like 500 tickets. Everyone just gets really excited about it and talks about how there is this unique opportunity where the design school is filled to the brim of black and brown bodies. That's a rare occasion, especially within the design field and the fact that this conference is ...
Jaline McPherson: ... a design field and the fact that this conference is able to reach so many different types of people and be an example of how communities can come together in their struggles, recognize different contributions to the field. And from what I hear, everyone has such a positive experience. So yeah, I think that's the conference in a nutshell.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. For people that have been listening to this show for any, I won't say for any length of time, but certainly, if people have been listening since 2015 I have talked at length about how wonderful this conference is. And aside from the reasons that you just mentioned, it was also just very affirming. So when I first heard it, I'm trying to think how did I first hear about the conference? I don't recall. I want to say maybe a past guest told me or something like that. So I went to the one in 2015 and 2017. But when I first heard about it, I remember telling other black designers that I know, "Yeah, we should go to this like Black in Design Conference at Harvard. And a lot of people at first glance sort of turn their nose up at it. Like, "Like what? It's at Harvard. Why? What is that about?".
Maurice Cherry: And so I'm mentioning the conference and everything and people are checking out the website. And a lot of people initially did not want to go because they were, "Well I don't know what it's going to be about. And are they talking about Photoshop or something like that?" They're thinking it was more along the lines of sort of digital design. They thought it would be something maybe comparable to, I don't know, an AIGA Conference, or HOW Design Live or something like that. And I'm telling people, "We need to go one, because it's the first year that they're having this event and we need to support it. And two, how many Black in Design conferences have you been to in your career? Probably none. Let's go."
Maurice Cherry: The tickets, I think back then were like 50 bucks or something. "The tickets are cheap, let's just go. Let's go and just check it out and then if we go and we don't like it, then at least you know we are in Boston, we can do other stuff." But, a lot of people I know at at first really did not want to go to that first conference because they didn't know what it was going to be about. They'll say, "Oh, I'll go next year," or something like that. And so I went to the conference. Yeah, I went to the conference in 2015 and it was, it was fantastic because not only about the things that were discussed, I remember the theme in 2015 was about scale. It was mostly about like equitable spaces and they went, similar to what you're talking about with landscape architecture, they went in magnitude from smaller spaces to larger spaces. So they started with the building and then they went to the neighborhood. Then the city, then the region. And so they had like different panels that will come on and talk about that.
Maurice Cherry: And then I think on the next day of the conference they had a keynote interview with Daryl [Crooks 00:00:20:56], who at the time was the Creative Director at The Atlantic. And so Freelon, rest in peace, who was one of the main architects for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, it was just so affirming to be in a space where we're learning about this sort of stuff. I'm meeting other black designers. There was singing, there was soul yoga, there were so many different things it just made you feel affirmed, not just as a designer but also as a black person. I feel culturally affirmed. Because sometimes we can go to these design events and there's not a lot of us there. Or you'll see someone else and you'll try to speak to them, but they may not want to speak to you because of whatever weird, antagonistic reason. So it was just good to go into a space and it just kind of felt like family in a way.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah. And that's something, I'm glad you said that. That's so incredible to hear, but it's something a lot of people say like, "I just felt like these people were my family even though it was just for one weekend or a little bit at a time. I immediately felt recognized in my contributions." And I think from a student perspective, maybe the negative interactions or experiences that we have in the design field, it is already a very intense program and oftentimes you're one or two of the black people in the room. And I think too, everyone was just saying, "Okay, there's not a lot of people here." And you know, Harvard prides itself as being that number one design school. So I think as a number one design school, they should be progressive, the forerunners and kind of celebrate diversity and have the blackened design conference. It's unique to any other design schools.
Jaline McPherson: And hopefully, I know a lot of students from other schools come and they're able to interact, but I don't know of any other school that's doing this. And so that was also too a big draw for me when I was looking at graduate programs. There's so many different ones, how do you choose a good school for you or a place where you feel like, okay, maybe I could belong here? And, when I was applying in 2017 the conference was happening and I wasn't able to go but they uploaded a lot of the videos online and it was just so amazing to see. You could feel the energy. I was on my computer staring into the screen and like, "Oh my gosh, like this is so amazing. I want to go there."
Jaline McPherson: And I knew it was just a conference, but to be a part of a community where people want to celebrate and help support crazy ideas like, "Hey, let's have a conference called Black in Design and have the school support us and professional support us and come together and make it happen on top of being a full-time graduate student. I was like, "These people are probably crazy, but I love it. I want to be involved with that." It's always amazing to hear stories or just hear current professionals who are like, "Oh yeah, we met in the 2015 conference and we started our own program." And you make a whole new connection from those pieces. And I think that's really integral to having a professional degree program. It's not just about learning, "Okay, this is how you design." But I think we also were feeling okay, we feel isolated in this space, or maybe we don't feel like we're able to be that great. We don't see that many examples of architects that look like us. But, being in a room full to the brim of so many diverse people that are in the same boat or in different fields of design I think is really, really energizing and what I'm looking forward to in October. So yeah, it's very exciting, to say the least.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. So yeah, the conference takes place October when?
Jaline McPherson: Okay, so taking place October 4th through 6th, the first weekend in October.
Maurice Cherry: 4th through 6th.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. And I know that the theme for this year is a little different. 2015 I talked about the theme was about scale. In 2017 the theme was about designing resistance and building coalitions.
Jaline McPherson: Yes.
Maurice Cherry: What is this year's theme and why did you all choose that?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, so this year's theme was really in reference to the past two conferences. It's called Black Futurism: Creating a More Equitable Future. And I think we really had this initial feeling of ... so the 2017 conference to elaborate a little bit was in response to, I think a lot of people felt defeated within the current political tension at the time. It still exists today, and we really wanted to unite as a community or showcase like social activism and how designers were being advocates for their own community. And so, that was a great response.
Jaline McPherson: And too, this year's theme fit in around other colloquiums or events that were taking place around Harvard. So there was a lot about social justice and designing as social justice. And so, we were thinking, okay, what's next? Then like if we had a conference on these two amazing topics, like how do we build from that and [Sodatia 00:26:22] and myself were the two co-chairs. We met and we were like, "Hey, what about black futurism?" And we both had this idea and we're like, "Oh my gosh, I was thinking the same thing." But, I think in lines with that we were really thinking about, okay, how do we then as a group of people design our communities to be more equitable for the future? How do we sustain ourselves as a culture? And I think too, it references, being a student you often see like a lot of the struggle and strifes that go in within the black community or, you can feel very defeated at times. So we really wanted to uplift others and show that we're still here even through all the systems of oppression or you feel like a lot is rooting against you that even in those hard situations that we're still prevailing. We're still creating beautiful things. We're creating beautiful communities, but also looking forward, how do we envision those to take place?
Jaline McPherson: I think also, of course, Black Panther was a such a huge movie. And not just the graphics of it, but the emotional response that movie was able to contribute and reach a wide range of people and not just the black community. And it was the first example of how people were envisioning Africa. the continent, separate from its colonial lens that is often referenced to. And I think that liberation for us was something that allowed this new creative film to be created and people to totally stretch their imaginations. Hannah [Bleecker 00:28:00] gave a lecture at the GSD last fall, and that was received really well of course, and it was super exciting. And it was just so empowering to see not only minorities, okay, yes, we're competing, even if we feel like we're the underdogs. But we're also excellent. We're also thriving. We're also creating these spaces that we haven't even seen before. And then now with technology moving quicker than ever, we're having this new kind of lens and opportunities to create spaces, and they're much different from the counterparts.
Jaline McPherson: Something that Hannah said at the lecture that stuck with me was if you look at other futuristic or sci-fi movies, you rarely see people of color in those kinds of films. And so, she was kind of hinting that there were no black people in the future. Like in Star Trek, and certain movies, there's not a lot of diversity. And so, this movie was really about saying, "No, we do exist in the future and this is how." And I think that for me it was super-empowering to see and a part of what we want to capture in this theme. So, I think ideas of liberation away from systems of oppression and moving from our past into the future, are things that we want to hint at. But also looking at technology and design. So we'll have a different couple of topics that we'll discuss within that larger umbrella of black futurism.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I was going to ask what can we expect from this year's event? But I know it's coming up soon. I don't know how much of it you can tease out there [crosstalk 00:29:36].
Jaline McPherson: Yeah [crosstalk 00:11:36]. Yeah, I can definitely tease a little bit. So, we're going to follow like I guess in terms of conference structure, there will be a lot of amazing panels. Some of the panels that we're thinking about including deal with technology and design, but also identity in the black experience and how that is kind of being translated into design. I'm trying to think what else I can say without giving away everything. Also, I think a new initiative or kind of experience that we're really hoping to connect is to create more of a networking event within from students and professionals.
Jaline McPherson: But also another initiative that the GSD has put on is the African American Design Nexus. And so we're really excited to share [crosstalk 00:30:23].
Maurice Cherry: Oh, is that with the Loeb library?
Jaline McPherson: ... Yeah. Yeah. And so that now has been created and that will be, I don't want to overstate on their apart, but I think we're going to be doing some collaboration with them. And it's kind of the start showcasing how students of color or other students can access other designers who've come before us. I think I said in a few times, like it feels like very slim when you look at how many black architects there are. And so, this'll be an exhibition and showcasing like other black designers. So, it should be really exciting. I'm excited for it.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. I'm really interested to hear more about the African American Design Nexus. I heard about it a little bit when I was there in 2017 and I was trying to reach out just to kind of get some more information about it and everything. But, I'm glad there's going to be some type of networking portion to it. Because, the two years that I went, particularly the first year, I met so many people in different disciplines that, I being one, that I had never even known existed. But also that have helped even kind of elevate what Revision Path was. I told the story before we started recording but, in 2015 that's where I first met some of the curators from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This was the year before it opened, so a lot of the conversation around space. There was talk about the new museum and everything like that. And one of the curators that I met there, Michelle Joan Wilkinson, we kept in touch over the years and now just recently they've acquired, some of Revision Path's episodes to be a part of the museum. It's the first podcast that's ever been admitted into the museum. So, I don't think that ever would have happened if I wouldn't have went to Black in Design and been able to network and meet people like that. It's crazy how great that event is.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, no, that's so incredible to hear and it's so exciting that, yeah, there's always the breadth of people who have told similar stories or totally different stories. I'm just so excited to connect to all the different people who have attended the conference in the past and hopefully new people who have been curious about it. But yeah, I'm also glad you mentioned the African American Smithsonian as well. And so with the passing of free Phil Freelon, that is also something that we want to recognize in this year's conference. And also provide a space to pay tribute to those who've come before us and that have passed away, but also have made amazing contributions to the field. So, we're really honored to have that kind of space where people can connect from all different walks of life, but also to solidify and come together. And Phil was actually at the first, in the 2015 conference like you mentioned. So, we feel really special to have had that opportunity and time with him.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. First of all, I just want to thank you for your role in helping to continue the conference. For people that are listening, you can tell that the conference sort of happens every other year. So the committee changes that plans it every year or so. I can only imagine the challenge that comes with having to sort of pick up the baton from the previous two years and then turn the conference into something new and different but yet still keep the same spirit of the event.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, no, that is definitely been a challenge. But, we're also very lucky to be the third conference. There were a lot of trial and errors of what happened in 2015 and 2017, but also what has been so amazing is having the past conference leaders recognize, okay, a lot of people are at the GSD for just two years. So, you're either catching the conference in your first year or in your second year and then you kind of leave. So [Natasha Hicks 00:16:23], and then I'm forgetting the another name, but they've created this amazing toolkit that's, okay, how do you even put together a conference? And so, Natasha was still at school this past year and has graduated in May, but she was a great resource at showcasing the overlap years of, okay, this is how we ran a conference, this is how we broke it down and creating so many useful documents.
Jaline McPherson: I think the long-term goal is, once we solidify that document, is to make it accessible to other student groups that would want to do this, but it is an intense amount of work. But, I think too on the other side is the BID, the Black in Design family, people who've organized it in the past have been amazing mentors. Have offered their expertise to us. Answered many late-night calls where we're like, "Wait, we're not sure like how you guys were able to do this" or et cetera. So it's been its own community within the GSD that's been really unique to have.
Jaline McPherson: And I'm so thankful to be working with a group of ... this year, our executive board includes both students at the GSD, but also some students or non-students, sorry, that are just in Boston and that have attended the conference and wanted to be involved. So I think opening up to having professionals as well as students has been really interesting and awesome to see and kind of overlap in, you know, we can share our student perspective, but also have some professional input into the conference as well-
Jaline McPherson: ... Some professional input into the conference as well, and it's been amazing. It's been a lot of work, but I was also able to meet so many people within the GSD, who work on planning and kind of how do you run a conference. And lots of phone calls with lots of different people. Then we've also had the support of a lot of alumni who attended the GSD. So we're thankful for that. This isn't the first conference, and so we had a lot of support going in. So it's been great.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. Let's switch gears here again. I've had a lot of people on the show who have been at various points of their design career. They've been professionals or captains of industry, et cetera. I'm really kind of interested to get more of the design student perspective, because you're coming into, I think you're coming into the design field at a time that is probably the best that it's going to get. It'll probably get better, just in terms of advances in technology. I mean, you have so much access through the internet, through internet-enabled devices. And of course you're at Harvard, which is just a bastion of higher education. I'm curious. As a design student, what do you want to see more of from the design community?
Jaline McPherson: Ooh, yeah. No, that's a good question. I think ... For me, I'm really ... So I guess before I started graduate school, I actually worked in the architecture office for a few years. So that experience of working is really helpful in now going back into school, because I was ... It's so different than being in school. And so at first I was like, "Oh my gosh, what did I do for four years in design school? Like I don't know anything." But now I can definitely see the important part of being a student is really this idea of experimentation, and not being afraid of failure. And so I mean that's a challenge for myself, but also I think an opportunity where people can look to other types of fields to influence design.
Jaline McPherson: I think landscape especially is a very open field where people, you can kind of create your own perspective within that. And I think it can be really exciting, but it can also be very daunting and very intimidating for a lot of students. And so for me, I guess I have a multiple point answer. And in one hand, I would love to see more one-on-one mentorship between professionals and students. Sometimes the student world feels so disconnected from the current profession.
Jaline McPherson: I think also too is looking at the diversity within the field and within the school, and that's something the school has been really supportive of. But we still have a lot of progress and work to do in terms of getting more students of color within the graduate school designed, but also more faculty that are more diverse. And so these are all things that kind of we're hoping the conference can help allude to and draw to. But yeah, and I think too, mentorship is really important. When you're in school, sometimes it can feel that you're alone or you're not sure what you're doing.
Jaline McPherson: And I think having someone to help you feel a little more confident within your work can help create a healthier work environment. Because school, I mean I think design schools are notorious for you staying up all night just to finish your project and not getting a lot of sleep. And so a lot of unhealthy habits can start to develop within design school and design culture. But I think having positive role models and faculty that support healthier lifestyles has been really rewarding. But also I'd like to see more women of color within landscape and also within the field of architecture. I think it's really beneficial to see someone that has been through it and can offer their advice. But I also think, yeah, those were also why I wanted to be involved in Black in Design, and kind of trying to fulfill those needs.
Maurice Cherry: So I'm curious about ... And this sort of falls into the realm of landscape architecture in a way. What are your thoughts on maintaining and memorializing places and spaces that have been dedicated to the memory of the enslavement of African Americans? This is something I've been thinking about honestly since the first conference. There was a talk by ... Oh, I'm going to butcher her name. Her name is Sara ... Last name starts with Z.
Jaline McPherson: Oh, Zewde?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, Sara Zewde.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, yeah.
Maurice Cherry: And she was talking about this huge sort of park revamp that she did in Brazil, and how the ... I'm trying to remember the whole thing, but basically it was built on the docking place where the slave ships came in from Africa. And she made sure that as she designed it, that it sort of paid tribute and paid homage to that. What are your thoughts on maintaining spaces like that?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, I mean I think it's just so empowering. And for me, a big question that I started to ask myself, was when ... Sometimes design can err on the side of being pretentious or being a little bit too, I don't know, maybe not involving communities that already exist or that have already occupied land. And I think especially within the African American community and traditions, that relationship of land to people is very sensitive, and a sense of enslavement and also working the land, but not feeling like we quite have ownership over space. So I think it's really powerful that now we start to render people of color within public space, and it's a new dynamic that I personally don't think exists enough. And I think it could be really empowering to start to see other spaces within the built environment, that kind of recognize contributions of enslaved Africans.
Jaline McPherson: There is an amazing project that I was working on this summer in New York, that was also investigating an early enslaved African burial ground in Van Cortlandt Park. And that really just kind of caught my attention, because I don't really see internships that have titles like that at all. I was like, "What in the world? Like an African burial ground." But just keep connecting with some women who were designing that, and also seeing other projects like... I believe it's the one in South Carolina, and it's right on the wharf, Hood Studio. I think Hood is the-
Maurice Cherry: Oh, yeah. Walter Hood.
Jaline McPherson: Walter Hood. Yeah, Walter Hood.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. He was at last year's conference. He talked about that, yeah.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, yeah. And just seeing his work that ... What is ... Their museum is called, I'm going to forget the name of it. But it's kind of ... I'm going to have to look it up.
Maurice Cherry: I know it's dedicated to ... I mean it was dedicated to slavery, but it's more so dedicated to the people that came in there. I think it's the International African American Museum.
Jaline McPherson: Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes. And this one is so unique because the port was one of the largest ports where a lot of Africans kind of entered into America. And so his-
Maurice Cherry: Sullivan's Island. Yeah.
Jaline McPherson: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. And so he's paying tribute to kind of those larger ancestors. And I think it's really powerful the way he kind of has gone to express it. Like within the front Plaza, I think I saw a rendering of all of these kinds of bodies that were ... So they have this stone fountain out in the front and the water kind of ebbs and flows. So when it's high, it's like this reflecting pool. But when it goes lower, the bottom of the fountain is actually these carved out bodies that are kind of resting in the water. And it's kind of never forget, kind of all of the unpaid labor. And it's, I don't know, it's just ... I can't even put it into words, but it really connected with me in such a large way. And kind of carving out a special place for that and paying a homage to it, I think is really important and really moving.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. There's a museum in Montgomery, Alabama, which is not far from where I'm from. I'm from Selma, and I haven't been to the museum yet. I've seen pictures of it where they ... It's the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, yeah.
Maurice Cherry: ... In Montgomery. And I just from all the pictures I've seen, I know there's parts where they have all of these kind of like hanging columns. There's sort of suspended from a ceiling, and it's down this really long corridor. And how each of the columns represents like a body or something to that effect. I'm probably getting it completely wrong, but I need to go see it just to take it in. Because again, I'm from that area, but I've always just been interested in how you memorialize space like that. Because those can be ... These are signs of trauma often, and now you're trying to take that and turn it into something honorable and memorable.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, no, I've heard amazing things about the Memorial as well. I haven't been yet either, but I think you expressed it really beautifully. Like taking a place that was a very traumatic place or a very painful history, and kind of saying we still have prevailed throughout this history and paying homage to that. I think it's very interesting in design. And also looking at spaces and what space is still traumatic, or how can we create more inclusive histories that even though it's in the deep South, where there is still a lot of hatred that exist. And yet still carving out spaces that pay homage to it. I think it's a big challenge, but also really exciting opportunity.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, totally agree with that. So what do you think helps like fuel the ambitions that you have? I mean to start out in architecture now, move on to the landscape architecture. Where does that drive come from?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, no definitely. I think for me I felt really connected to my family, and I've been really grateful to have such a supportive family. Very early on, my dad exposed me to education, and I think for me at the end of the day, even if I'm having a bad day, my parents are my #1 supporters. When I was 18, my dad actually passed away from cancer, and so that was a really big life changing moment. But for me, I always wanted to kind of make my family proud. My mom is from a very poor neighborhood in the Bronx, and kind of was able to get out of poverty. And my dad was born in Mississippi, and raised on the West Side of Chicago. And they both had very, very hard lives early on, but I think I'm still amazed at how much they were able to give me.
Jaline McPherson: So I think for me at the end of the day, just to pass on their legacy, and to try and create more equitable spaces is kind of where my drive comes from. And having so much love that I was nourished with from a very young age. I realized now that's can be very rare, especially within some communities of color. And so just being able to create spaces where others feel welcome I think is really unique and really kind of a big gap within the design field where people could reach a lot of others and create a better tomorrow for, no pun there, for the conference. But I think that, I think that's great.
Maurice Cherry: Do you have a dream project that you'd love to work on one day?
Jaline McPherson: Oh wow. Oh man. A dream project. I think for me. So I touched on briefly. I started to do this internship this summer and thinking about doing research for an African burial ground. And then I was talking to my mom about it, and she's like, "You need to think bigger, like way bigger. Like what could you design?" And I'm like, "What? Like okay." And so she helped me come up with this idea. Like I would love to create, I know they have a lot of freedom trails or ... In Boston, they have, "Oh, walk the path of the revolutionary war." But I think it'd be really amazing to see a path that was dedicated to African American history or a trail where you could walk, and I don't know, discover at the end of the day, maybe they have different kind of monuments of artwork or different artists.
Jaline McPherson: I love art and the visual artists at the end of the day, but to kind of create a space where people don't necessarily have to pay to learn about their history. Or they don't have to go inside, I think that's maybe a possibility in landscape. But it'd be awesome to create some sort of network or trail and a reconnection to the land for the black community, and for others to see and recognize our contributions to this country. I don't know if that was a project description or a title, but it'd be nice to, I don't know, create some sort of nature trail or connection to our history that ... Maybe it's called a legacy trail where people could walk and learn about ... I don't know. There's so many stories that I feel I don't know about enslavement or where it happened and when it happened, but also learn about different cultural contributions of people of color to the built environment. That'd be fun.
Maurice Cherry: What does success look like for you? Have you thought about that?
Jaline McPherson: Ooh, yeah. I mean in terms of success from grad school or like longterm success?
Maurice Cherry: Yeah, either one.
Jaline McPherson: Yeah. I'm trying to think. Yeah, I don't know. I think I try to think about success in different ways. Obviously, financial stability is one of those measures of maybe success, but I think too, another way you could look at success as maybe just being able to reach X amount of people. Or I would love to become one of the very few licensed African American architects. The number's still in the 400s. And so I think at the end of the day that would be a success to get my licensure as an architect, and also be able to mentor so many younger architects and kind of increased the field in that way.
Jaline McPherson: But yeah, I think to grad school, the success is just finishing grad school at this point. It can feel very like a big burden at points. I mean Harvard is a very expensive graduate school, and so I think just making it through those and kind of creating marks for me. So graduation would be one marked measure of success, and I don't know, I'm really hoping the conference ... I'm able to connect with even more people that are interested in the design field. There may be skeptical, like you said, like unsure about what the conference will bring and hope to create and make others feel included where they feel excluded.
Maurice Cherry: Well just to kind of wrap things up here. Where can our audience find out more about you, about your work, about the conference, where can they find all this online?
Jaline McPherson: Yeah, definitely. And so they can find more about this year's current conference at blackfuturism2019.xyz. They can also follow us on Instagram and Twitter at GSDBlackFuturism or GSDBiD_Conf. We'll be posting a lot of our updates on the website through social media, and we'll be talking more about speakers and building up to the conference. So yeah.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. Sounds good. Well, Jaline McPherson, I want to thank you just so much for coming on the show. First, I mean thank you for sharing your story and about how you got to Harvard and got into landscape architecture, but also really for helping to carry the torch and continue on the Black in Design conference. I think a lot of what we discussed just around the importance about the equity of spaces and things of that nature. I'm really interested to see how that plays out with the theme of the conference, as you said about no black people in the future had me actually thinking about the work of Alisha Wormsley. She's this artist from Pittsburgh that does these billboard installations that says, "There are black people in the future" or something like that. I'm just really interested to see what's going to come out of this year's conference. I just want to thank you for coming on the show and talking about it.
Jaline McPherson: No, yeah. Thank you, Maurice. I had an excellent time. I'm so thankful that you reached out to me and so humbled to be working on this project with my team. There's so many helping hands to make this year's conference possible, and so we're really excited to share more about the conference as we get closer to that October date. But thank you. This is amazing.