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Learning Together: HOK’s Black History Month Panel 2024

In celebration of Black History Month, HOK brought together four colleagues from around the firm to discuss their design stories, identities and perspectives.

Over 300 HOK employees tuned in to the live streamed event, which highlighted themes such as the corporate relationship with Black History Month, professional advancement and finding community.

Panelists included (left to right in above image):

“Differing experiences and perspectives build the foundation for powerful design and community,” said Susan Klumpp Williams, HOK’s co-CEO. “We are proud to celebrate diversity as we continuously work to raise the bar on representation across the firm.”

View a recording of the live panel below or skip below for a few of the big themes and takeaways.

Discussion highlights included:

Being the only person in the room

“I think we typically gravitate to those who look like us when we are in a new environment. And when you are navigating architecture school for the first time, it can be very difficult if there’s no one who looks like you,” said Kendall. “I was grateful that my school did have some diversity. But there were many classes where I was the only African American student, and I had to cope with that and not let that affect my education.”

Finding a path in design

Nneamaka’s story started abroad. “I grew up in Nigeria, so I never felt different in terms of standing out in a room because everyone looked like me. Africans tend to build their own houses, so I’ve always been around architecture in a sense. I think it’s really important that we, people like us, are in architecture so younger people can see us as a role model. Being in this space, it’s such an inspiration.”

Leveraging leadership to uplift others

From becoming one of the youngest licensed architects in the history of Georgia to holding numerous industry leadership roles, Ralph talked about the importance of using your experience to help others. “The idea is that you—we —can all reach out to someone to give them that extra push and direction. I’m really proud of all those leadership roles that have led me to get people on track to feed the diversity pipeline in architecture.”

Advice to emerging design professionals

Benjamin shared advice he’d give to young practitioners: “First, I would say learn to draw as a way to express ideas. Second, be able to also translate your ideas into words so you can communicate them clearly. And third, I would say is get out of the studio, especially in the school environment. It’s very easy to be highly focused on just being up all night and doing all those things with the people in your class, but it’s equally valuable to forge relationships outside the studio.”

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