Redesigners for Justice: the leaders we need for an equitable future

At the end of June 2019, Ava DuVernay shared that her Netflix mini-series When They See Us about the 1989 case of the Exonerated Five (previously recognized by many as the “Central Park Five”) had been streamed by over 23 million accounts in just under 4 weeks since its release on May 31. She tweeted about it, noting that “Our stories matter and can move across the globe. A new truth for a new day.”

original photograph by Scott Witter for Adweek // treatment by CRXLAB Design Associate Amanda Im

At Creative Reaction Lab, we are keenly aware of the power of narrative in shaping perspectives and outcomes across identities and are especially intent on amplifying and centering the voices and narratives of those who have been ignored, erased, or silenced. While our team already considers themselves DuVernay fans because her talent for storytelling is incomparable, our admiration for her continues to grow immensely as DuVernay consistently demonstrates that she is a strong Redesigner for Justice.

Creative Reaction Lab’s work is based on the belief that systems of oppression, inequality, inequity are by design; therefore, they can and must be redesigned. We also believe that everybody is a designer — design is not restricted to people who have pursued design as a career path. We all have the power to influence outcomes. Every choice that we make every day contribute to a greater design.

With these beliefs as our foundation, Creative Reaction Lab has pioneered
Equity-Centered Community Design
, an award-winning creative problem solving framework based in equity, humility-building, integrating history and healing practices, addressing power dynamics, and co-creating with the community. When we speak about Equity-Centered Community Design and support its integration it into peoples’ practice, we are very intentional in stating that we are promoting a mindset shift rather than process adoption. While early integration might look like checking boxes on a to-do list, to truly center equity and lived experience in daily practice we need to get to a place where questions about power, inclusion, identity, and equity are consistently present in our minds.

To cultivate this mindset shift, Creative Reaction Lab is training a new type of leader to address the exclusion and inequities in our communities: Redesigners for Justice. The competencies being developed in these leaders are based in a foundation of Equity-Centered Community Design with interwoven elements of social entrepreneurship, community organizing, and intrapreneurship.

Redesigners for Justice: Equity Designers + Design Allies

With these competencies, Redesigners for Justice approach issues with significant self-awareness, assessing context to understand where they fit in as either an Equity Designer or Design Ally; because similarly to privileged and oppressed identities, you can be an Equity Designer in one context and a Design Ally in another.

Equity designers are individuals who:

  1. put people and racial equity first,
  2. are embedded within a community and strive toward the improvement of that community,
  3. work through the lens of failure — always iterating, making and improving interventions,
  4. build upon the existing resources available within their organizations/communities to create change, and
  5. have lived experiences with the inequity being addressed.

With this knowledge, you might understand why we believe Ava DuVernay is a great Equity Designer role model in the media sector. Let’s look at the traits again:

  1. Central to DuVernay’s work is challenging the systems that have led to the exclusion of people of color. Her film Selma critiqued the exclusive design of laws and social structures that kept Black Southerners from exercising their voting rights, and Oscar-nominated documentary 13th outlined the evolution of slavery to the mass incarceration of Black men in America. (Put People + Equity First)
  2. As an African-American woman, DuVernay strives to lift up other women and people of color. The Array Creative Campus that houses Duvernay’s production company, nonprofit, and indie distribution arm employs mostly women of color. Each season of Queen Sugar has been directed by women and six of its novice directors have booked work on television shows as a result of their experience on the show. (Embedded in Community)
  3. While filming When They See Us, DuVernay ensured that counselors were available for all cast and crew members, acknowledging that the subject matter was laden with traumatic experiences that could cause undue harm, especially after her own experience while creating 13th. (Iterating, Making, + Improving Interventions)
  4. In the creation of 13th, DuVernay used a mixture of archival footage and interviews with previously incarcerated people, activists and advocates, academics, and politicians, weaving a more comprehensive picture of the United States’ history of racism and how it has fueled mass incarceration as we know it today. (Build Upon Existing Resources)
  5. In 2016, New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis coined the term the “DuVernay test” as the racial diversity equivalent of the Bechdel test (for women’s representation in movies), asking whether “Blacks and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories” as a nod to the complex and equitable representation of people of color in DuVernay’s work. (Lived Experience With Inequity)

These are just some of the ways that we see Ava DuVernay moving through the world as an Equity Designer, but remember — this is just one side of the Redesigner coin. Every person has the capacity to be both an Equity Designer and Design Ally, dependent on context + the person’s identities and experiences.

Design Allies exhibit many of the same traits as Equity Designers, with two key differences (bolded below for emphasis):

  1. put people and racial equity first,
  2. might be embedded within a community or are indirectly connected
  3. work through the lens of failure — always iterating, making and improving interventions,
  4. build upon the existing resources available within their organizations/communities to create change, and
  5. leverage their power and access to benefit Equity Designers.

When we consider Ava DuVernay’s role as a Design Ally as well, we note her connection to other communities of color and efforts to improve lives within those communities (Embedded in/Indirectly Connected to Community), and recognize the significant impact she has made by leveraging her power to center stories of Black men and formerly/currently incarcerated individuals (Leverage Power + Access). For all of these reasons and more, DuVernay is a shining example of the leaders we need.

In Creative Reaction Lab’s mission to cultivate Redesigners for Justice, we are promoting self-awareness that helps us all examine our roles in either perpetuating or dismantling inequity. The framework of Equity Designers + Design Allies supports an understanding of how and when we each might choose to either wield or yield our power in ways that center equity and engage humility.

In 2015, DuVernay tweeted: “If your dream only includes you, it’s too small.” With a collective of Redesigners for Justice working in solidarity across sectors and roles, together we will build a more equitable future for us all.

If you consider yourself a Redesigner for Justice or if there’s somebody in your life who you think we should know about, please reach out to info@creativereactionlab.com or share in the comments below to let us know what being an Equity Designer + Design Ally looks like for you or that person. You might find your story featured here on Equal Space in the near future.

Equal Space

Equal Space is a publication of Creative Reaction Lab. Creative Reaction Lab educates and deploys youth leadership to address racial inequities impacting Black and Latinx populations.

Creative Reaction Lab

Written by

At Creative Reaction Lab, we believe that Black and Latinx youth are integral to advancing racial equity and developing interventions for their communities.

Equal Space

Equal Space is a publication of Creative Reaction Lab. Creative Reaction Lab educates and deploys youth leadership to address racial inequities impacting Black and Latinx populations.

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