In Conversation With Valarie Franklin

Story By: Jessie Taylor
Featuring: Valerie Franklin
Nashville Design Week 2020

Meet Valarie Franklin. Valarie is a senior architect at Moody Nolan with over 20 years of experience in the architectural world. Most notably, Valarie is a champion for reshaping design.

Valarie serves as president of the Nashville chapter of NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects), whose purpose is to minimize the effect of racism in the architectural community. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Civic Design Center, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advocate for civic design visions and actionable change in communities to improve quality of life for all.

As Nashville Design Week invests in reshaping design by helping to foster a more diverse design community, we contacted Valarie via email to help us set the tone for [re]SHAPING THE DIALOGUE and Nashville Design Week as a whole.

How do we engage, encourage, and support the next generation of BIPOC designers?

To engage with the next generations, we must show them early in their childhood that a career in design is attainable and barrier-free to them. It’s important to understand that as a result of past segregation and redlining, our neighborhoods have had very real issues rebounding and truly integrating. These socioeconomic disparities continue to play out in our public education system. As a result, many BIPOC students don’t have the tools available to them during their formative years that would guide them into professional careers in design. If we want to grow the pool of BIPOC designers, it’s imperative that they’re engaged early and afforded the same opportunities as public schools in areas with higher property values. Actionable ways to engage these students are to sponsor or create initiatives such as hosting workshops, donating art supplies, and participating in career awareness days in our public school system as early as kindergarten.

“As a result of past segregation and redlining, our neighborhoods have had very real issues rebounding and truly integrating.”

When bringing a team into the schools, it’s important that the teams engaging with students are diverse. Diversity adds another level of confidence in the students and encourages them. When they see someone they identify with who is successful, it becomes more realistic that they, too, can find success. To effectively encourage the next generation, there has to be follow-up and a true effort to nurture students within the pipeline to professional careers. “Nurturing” in this case means keeping in contact with them after the initial engagement, and becoming loyal mentors and advisers throughout their education. Mentoring includes sharing programs and initiatives that the students can benefit from. If the right programs don’t exist, you help create them.

Mentors also have the opportunity to financially support mentees and/or make them aware of scholarships that they would be eligible for. Monetary support could look like scholarships, competitions that have a monetary prize, or gift cards to be spent on books that aid in or that are required for their education.

Attrition is a huge issue in the pipeline. Studies prove that many BIPOC college students don’t finish their degrees simply due to the financial strain that it causes themselves and their families. Much of this hardship is due to generational poverty—a direct result of historical racial disparities. The only path to eradication of generational poverty is through education. Higher education opens up opportunities over a person’s lifetime that impact the next generations.

When discussing inequalities within the design industry, what terms and statistics do you want the NDW audience to be familiar with?

Women make up 20% of architects, black architects make up only 3%, and black women architects make up a mere .03% of architects. Women are paid 80% of what white males are paid, and black women (who are hit with a double whammy of sexism and racism) are paid 63% (63 cents on the dollar). Attrition and equal pay are systemic issues.

Uncomfortable conversations drive change. What tactics have you found to be the most effective in helping people understand your point of view?

“Often when someone is not afflicted by something, they have the perception that it does not exist.”

It is very effective to be able to tell a story in order to humanize the conversation. Often when someone is not afflicted by something, they have the perception that it does not exist. Storytelling that’s personal, followed by facts that support the story, helps the listener develop empathy for the situation. This method can even inspire actionable change.

What educational materials do you suggest to the NDW community?

Written by Valarie–

Health Equity
Growing Compassionately: Transportation Equity in Communities
Equity In Communities
Systemic Racism Explained


Understanding the effects of segregation 


The Color of Law


NOMAnash The Coloring Book of Architecture



Is there a question you would like the NDW community to consider prior to your event?

Do you think Systemic Racism exists? If so, how do you feel it has affected professional design careers?

Keep up with Valarie on LinkedIn.