At the American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Convention in Chicago a few weeks ago, a number of excellent speakers enlivened the convention experience. One of the highlights was an award acceptance speech, not a keynote. Ivenue Love-Stanley, FAIA, a pioneering African-American architect based in Atlanta, accepted the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award for her work and career, bringing design to underserved communities. She has been passionate about making design education, and education in general, inclusive and accessible.
Established in 1972, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award has honored architects and organizations that embody the profession’s proactive social mandate through a range of commitments, including affordable housing, inclusiveness, and universal access. The award is named after the civil rights–era head of the Urban League who confronted head-on the AIA’s absence of socially progressive advocacy at the 1968 AIA National Convention.
Here, with permission of the AIA, is the entirety of Love-Stanley’s speech:
I am the third of 4 daughters of Charlie and Mattie Love. I was born in a public housing project in Meridian, Mississippi.
I am the product of Meridian’s segregated public school system in which I excelled academically, and won a full scholarship to MIllsaps College, graduating in 3 years with a degree in mathematics.
Whatever I am today, I owe to my mother and father. They are both unlettered math prodigies. Let me explain—
Daddy had the ability to “figure out” quadratic equations in grade school, but had to leave school to join the Navy during World War II. He returned from the war to graduate high school and complete one year at a junior college. He eventually ran the print shop at the Naval Air Station by day and served as their bartender at the Officer’s Club by night. In addition to that, he ran a very successful catering business on the side. He was the consummate entrepreneur. I learned a lot about running a successful service business from observing my dad.
My mother, the eldest girl of 8 children, was able to add multiple columns of figures in her head. Mom was forced to leave school in the 10th grade to contribute to the family’s meager income and assist with the care of her younger siblings.
Mom had a natural mathematical ability, but with 4 small children, college was not a reality. She nevertheless was an excellent bookkeeper and long-time Finance Committee member at our church.
As one of the first students to desegregate Millsaps, I guess I had an epiphany (or a brain freeze) in my third year and decided not to pursue a career in medicine but consider architecture as my life’s work. There was something incredibly alluring about the process of creating on a grand scale.
Immediately upon graduating college, I headed straight to Georgia Tech to study architecture. While a 21-year-old freshman at Tech, I was given the opportunity to intern with an architectural firm. I worked 30 hours per week while attending classes as a full-time student. I will be forever indebted to a wonderful southern gentleman who had little in common with me, did not look like me, but was willing to take a chance on me. That firm had never had a female professional until I came.
How many of you today realize how absolutely important it is that young people be afforded internships as well as permanent positions in your firms?
I for one will continue to advocate for change. I want to simply ask you to search your soul and honestly ask the question: Is this profession what you really want it to be?
There is such a scarcity of minorities and women in key leadership positions at the major architectural firms in the country—it is astounding. I would suggest that we start by aggressively increasing the minority enrollment at major schools of architecture. Then aggressively work to increase the representation of minority and female faculty members. Then shore up the entrance level programs at junior colleges and provide support to historically black colleges and universities, which are the paths that so many choose to travel.
These improvements are long overdue.
Although women make up an increasingly larger percentage of the students in the country’s schools of architecture, the number of female professionals who eventually enter the practice pales by comparison. We still have a lot to do in our own profession and within the Institute as well. We stand to lose an entire generation if we do not act fast.
This profession has made an indelible impact upon my life. It has taken me to places and exposed me to people that I would never have imagined. For that, I am grateful.
As I accept this award, I would first like to thank God for sustaining me on this journey. It hasn’t always been easy.
I would like to recognize my family, my friends, and colleagues for their love and support. Aand to my husband, William J. Stanley III, FAIA, and Chancellor of the College of Fellows for being my biggest cheerleader.
And to the Board of Directors of the AIA, the selection jury, and my sponsor, Walter Street, I am honored to receive this award.
I will cherish it forever.