Creative Reaction Lab is a non-profit social enterprise committed to fighting racism by design with design. Creative Reaction Lab takes a two-pronged approach to this: (1) educating and deploying Black and Latinx youth leadership to design new ways to disrupt and dismantle racial inequities, and (2) training adult allies in implementing a design framework called Equity-Centered Community Design.
During my role as Creative Reaction Lab’s Learning and Education Manager, I led the design and implementation of the organization’s first ever Community Design Apprenticeship Program, which aims to support and train college-age Black and Latinx youth to work on design approaches to addressing specific social challenges impacting their local communities.
The first iteration of the Community Design Apprenticeship Program focused on examining the impact of public transit on residents of Kingshighway, a historically disinvested, majority African American community in North St. Louis. This was part of a larger multi-stakeholder initiative to understand how a new light rail system would impact the St. Louis region, and was part of efforts to advocate for racially equitable decision-making for transit access.
I worked with Creative Reaction Lab team members to co-design a ten-week, six-session program rooted in Equity-Centered Community Design. During program workshops, Apprentices examined the history of Kingshighway, with particular attention to racism and segregation, identified power dynamics impacting the design challenge, examined how their own identities and relationships to power impact their roles as community designers, and sought input and feedback about public transit use and access from community residents.
In culmination of the program, Apprentices ideated and prototyped a pop-up community event at a core community center to generate awareness about the proposed light rail expansion into the local community, and to gather resident input on the hopes and concerns they hold about public transit access.
Apprentices collected input from over 30 community residents, which was then shared with key decision-makers within the light rail planning process. The Apprentices’ efforts elevated awareness of some of residents’ key concerns about the transit expansion, including safety, traffic, and gentrification. While residents expressed the importance of access to public transit, they simultaneously shared the importance of ensuring that public transit offers riders secure and reliable experiences across destinations.
Moreover, the project highlighted the ongoing need for community-based design and decision-making. Throughout the process, community residents expressed a lack of awareness about the transit expansion plans, which confirmed the disconnect in government and corporate stakeholders’ efforts to genuinely hear residents’ perspectives. There is an ongoing need for similar approaches -- where community members, especially youth, are involved and included in civic decision-making processes that impact quality of life of residents -- and hopefully, the Community Design Apprenticeship Program can serve as one such approach.