400 Forward: Making Way for the Next 400 African-American Women Architects

Tiffany Brown, Founder of 400 Forward. (twitter.com)
Tiffany Brown, Founder of 400 Forward. (twitter.com)

In August 2017, the 400th African-American female architect got licensed in the US. It was indeed a great achievement for both women in the field of architecture, as well as marginalised and discriminated communities in the country, as only about 0.3 percent of licensed women architects in the US come from this community. In celebration of this feat, Tiffany Brown, an architect from Detroit, Michigan, started an initiative named, ‘400 Forward’, aimed at inspiring, mentoring, and supporting more African-American women and young girls to come into the profession of architecture.

Brought up in Detroit, Brown has experienced social injustice and discrimination first-hand. Hence, she has grown to become a powerful voice in promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion in the industry. Through this initiative, she aims to bring up the next 400 African-American women architects faster and more supported than the first 400. 400 Forward provides young women with education in architecture through their scholarships and mentorship programs, to use as a tool to bring about social justice in the country.

Brown wishes to be the face she was looking for through her journey, as she hadn’t seen many people like herself back then. She launched the initiative after winning a $50,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which was used in creating awareness about STEAM education in her community and providing financial help to girls who wished to pursue their studies in related fields.

400 Forward works towards providing women with equal opportunities in fields of construction, project management, practice administration, and design, so that their voices are also heard in design conversations. Brown feels this is also necessary to ensure people of colour are well represented in architecture, and that they come forward to solve the issues and design better for their own communities.

Brown, from her experience, advises younger women architects and aspiring architects to keep in mind a set of seven points while venturing into the industry. These firstly include knowing yourself, understanding who you are, and what exactly you wish to achieve. Secondly, study more about the field and keep yourself updated about its changes, developments, and legalities of the work environment. Her third advice is to make sure you contribute significantly and that your work is seen so that you are deemed a valued member of the team. The other points include being confident, overcoming self-doubt, being professional by displaying integrity and self-control even in adverse situations, actively participating in discussions, and making your unique voice heard.

Brown sees a future where 400 Forward reaches inner cities across the country, supported by mentors, ambassadors, and program partners from around the world, giving every girl the chance to pursue an education of her choice and without any limits. She hopes architecture firms around the world would stand united in promoting more women in the industry, thereby changing its infamous label of being a man’s world.

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