Fuad Oluwafemi Kareem
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Fuad Oluwafemi Kareem

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Fuad ‘Femi’ Kareem in his own words

 “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” - James Baldwin

Who am I?
My name is Fuad.
I am an American who loves his country.
I am Muslim man whose faith is the foundation of my being.
I am the son of two loving Nigerian immigrants who set my foundation.
I am the husband to a gorgeous, intelligent woman who supports me at every turn.
I am the father of three beautiful young girls who I would die for.
I am the oldest brother to three younger brothers who I am always learning from.
I am also having a hard time coping with what has recently transpired in America.

Over the past few weeks, I have gone through a range of emotions that have left me shaken to my core. Sadness overwhelmed me watching life leave a human body while a man begged and pleaded for mercy. This feeling took me back to the memory of my mother finding out that my grandmother had passed away in Nigeria. Anger and rage quickly followed because I couldn’t understand how something like this could happen in broad daylight in front of a crowd. Soon, I was awash with fear because I started to think about my most precious commodities on Earth: my three daughters. My eldest, who is five, asked my wife why the people were fighting on TV. How does a parent explain the current climate of the world to a five-year-old? As I write this essay, I recognize a responsibility to express these feelings so we may all regain some semblance of hope.

 “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.” - Barak Obama, Dreams from My Father

In my journey as a young undergrad who knew nothing about architecture to now working on some of the largest projects within the aviation industry, I have been exposed to a world I never thought possible as a young child. What I have learned most in these years is that as design professionals we hold a great responsibility in creating a built environment that is both beautiful and of true benefit for the people who experience it. These things are not mutually exclusive.

While matriculating through the industry, one thing always nags at me: the lack of diversity in architecture specifically the inadequate percentage of African Americans working in this honorable profession. According to the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), only two percent of licensed architects in the U.S. are African American. Even more disheartening is that African American women only make up three-tenths of a percent. I believe this problem of licensure is the result of four major factors: the educational pipeline, mentorship, decision making, and design influence.

Exposing middle school and high school youth to the world of architecture is a first step in fixing the educational pipeline. Along their journey, mentorship is important as they go through the difficult study of architecture in college. After joining the workforce and working for some time, it’s very rare to see African Americans be put into decision making roles. When you’re a young intern seeing someone who looks like you, and they are making important decisions, it gives a sense of aspiration. It helps bolster the dreams for which you are reaching. The opportunity to make a real impact on the design process can really be disheartening to black architects and designers, because their value is usually seen on the technical side of architecture. Holistic design that is built on a wealth of diverse experiences can only strengthen the final design solution.

 “The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

What have I done to support change? This is the fundamental question I continue to ask myself. It’s not fair to ask for change if I am not looking for change within. It’s also my duty to be brutally honest with myself and what I have observed even if it makes myself or the reader uncomfortable. The goal is not to end inequality with one essay, but to start a dialogue on how real change can be made inside and outside of architecture.

I am willing to have the conversation.

Are you?