Black in Design Conference

Black Futurism 2019

October 04 — 06

Black in Design Conference

Black Futurism 2019

October 04 — 06

The Future
is Color

The Black in Design Conference, organized by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design African American Student Union (GSD AASU) recognizes the contributions of the African diaspora to the design fields and promotes discourse around the agency of the design profession to address and dismantle the institutional barriers faced by our communities.

The 2019 Black in Design conference, "Black Futurism: Creating a More Equitable Future" explores pathways to liberation through a design lens, considering the historical past and present structural oppression of black and brown communities locally and internationally. The conference will demonstrate how designers, creatives, organizers, educators, and policymakers are imagining more sustainable and equitable futures for black and brown bodies. The conference will lead discussions and exhibitions on the intersection of black futurism and design, contending with the role of the radical imagination as we tackle complex urban problems of social and economic injustice. We seek to create a learning environment where participants collaborate, grappling with questions of equity and possibility, while also sharing visions for the future of black communities across the world. This environment gives agency to black and brown voices to define what a more sustainable future looks like and how we can collectively realize this vision."

Learn more about Black in Design Conference

When: October 04 — 06, 2019Where: Gund Hall, Harvard GSDQuestions? Send us an email

Where to Stay

Black in Design has negotiated a great discounted rate for our attendees of $219 per night (plus taxes) at the Studio Allston Hotel. Studio Allston Hotel is located just across the river from Harvard Square in the Barry’s Corner area, at 1234 Soldiers Field Road, Boston, MA 02135 (tel. 617-206-1848). Reserve your room in the Harvard GSD discounted block.

Guests staying at Studio Allston can take public transit, cabs, or ride-shares to quickly get to the BiD conference venue at Gund Hall (48 Quincy St., Cambridge, MA 02138). The MBTA #86 bus has a stop right by the hotel at the corner of Western Ave. and Everett St., and a stop at Gund Hall. The MBTA #66 bus goes from Barry’s Corner to Harvard Square. Note that bus schedules vary for weekdays, Saturday, and Sunday. The Transit app is a good resource to check real-time bus arrivals.

If you’d like to be closer to Gund Hall, there are several hotels in Harvard Square, and a few B&Bs, within about 10 minutes walking distance:

The Hotel Veritas

One Remington St, Cambridge, MA 02128

Tel. 617-520-5000

Harvard Square Hotel

110 Mt. Auburn St, Cambridge, MA, 2138

Tel. 617-864-5200 or 1-800-458-5886

The Charles Hotel

One Bennett St, Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel. 617-864-1200 or 1-800-882-1818

Sheraton Commander Hotel

16 Garden St, Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel. 617-547-4800 or 1-800-535-5007

Irving House

24 Irving St, Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel. 617-547-4699 or 877-547-4600

A Friendly Inn at Harvard

1673 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel. 617-547-7851

Parkside on Ellery B&B

74 Ellery St., Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel. 617-492-5025

Additional Lodging

More options in the area (most easily accessible to Gund Hall by public transit or cab/rideshare) include:

The Mary Prentiss Inn

6 Prentiss St, Cambridge, MA 02140

Tel. 617-661-2929

DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Boston - Cambridge

400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston, MA 02134

Tel. 617-783-0090 or 1-800-754-7515

Courtyard by Marriott Boston/Cambridge

777 Memorial Dr, Cambridge, MA 02139

Tel. 617-492-7777

Porter Square Hotel

1924 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140

Tel. 617-499-3399

Le Meridien Cambridge-MIT

20 Sidney St, Cambridge, MA 02139

Tel. 617-577-0200 or 866-716-8119

A Cambridge House

2218 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA, 02140

Tel. 617-491-6300 or 1-800-232-9989

The Kendall Hotel

350 Main St, Cambridge, MA 02142

Tel. 617-577-1300 or 866-566-1300

The Freepoint Hotel

220 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, MA, 02138

Tel. 617-491-8000 or 1-855-752-2005

Hyatt Regency Cambridge

575 Memorial Dr, Cambridge, MA 02139

Tel. 617-492-1234 or 1-800-233-1234

Boston Marriott Cambridge

50 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02142

Tel. 617-494-6600 or 1-800-228-9290

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Boston - Cambridge

250 Monsignor O'Brien Highway, Cambridge, MA 02141

Tel. 617-577-7600

Homewood Suites by Hilton

1 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02474

Tel. 781-643-7258

Royal Sonesta

40 Edwin H Land Blvd, Cambridge, MA 02142

Tel. 617-806-4200

AC Hotel by Marriott - Cambridge

10 Acorn Park Dr, Cambridge, MA 02140

Tel. 617-876-6190

The Program

October 4

Black Utopia, let's celebrate it!

Registration 📋
12:00pm — 1:00pm
Admission lunch 🍔 RSVP
12:00pm — 7:00pm
Playground of Empathy: Immersive Gender Experience RSVP
The Just City Cypher Room Open House
4:00pm — 7:30pm
Dope and Different Exhibit
Opening Remarks
Opening Keynote: Pierce Freelon
6:30pm — 9:00pm
Beer and Dogs: Black to the Future Co-hosted with Africa GSD
October 5

Black Justice, let's talk about it!

Registration 📋
Breakfast 🥯
Opening Remarks
Session 1
African American Design Nexus
The African American Design Nexus was launched through the GSD library in 2019. The project honors the legacy of Black designers while exploring “the intersection of design, identity, and practice”. BiD is excited to partner with the Nexus through this rich conversation with four women who have fundamentally shaped the field through their visions for transformative design.
Panelists: Felecia Davis, Allison Grace Williams and Diane Jones Allen
Moderated by: Gabriel Ramos & Mariah Barber
9:30am — 6:30pm
Playground of Empathy: Immersive Gender Experience RSVP
9:30pm — 6:30pm
Dope and Different Exhibit
Session 2
Imagining Black Futures: Designing for the Possible
From climate change to mass-migration, designers of the future will be faced with unparalleled challenges. Our creativity will be pushed to the brink as we are tasked with designing for realities that have yet to exist. This panel explores the multi-faceted ways that design may rise up to meet the challenges of the future, rooted in not just notions of fear, but possibility.
Panelists: Toni Griffin, Kenneth Bailey and Malcolm Davis
Moderated by: Jha D Williams
Lunch 🍔
Career Fair
Session 3
Black Power Meets the Digital: Equity & Justice in Technology and Media
From techno-chauvinism, to AI systems that do not recognize Black faces, the impact of technology and media on Black communities continues to be profoundly consequential. The following panelists breathe life and insight into how technology and media can be used to create abundance for Black communities, rather than exacerbated oppression. From leveraging biomimicry, to reshaping graphic design, and infusing technology with afrofuturism, this panel explores how Black designers and creatives can harness tech for good.
Panelists: Bridgette Wallace, Jerome Harris, Ari Melenciano and Billy Almon
Moderated by: Ladipo Famodu
Guided Meditation with Kartina Richardson. The Just City Cypher Session 2
Session 4
The Sanctity of Black Bodies: Creating Spaces for Wellness & Joy
What is required for Black people to walk through the world liberated, joyful, and healed in the future? Our panelists explore how mental wellness, community-grown wealth, and Black dream-spaces will converge to create a future where the sanctity of our bodies is honored and dignified.
Panelists: Denise Shante Brown, Nia Evans, Charles Wallace-Thomas IV and Adolphus Opara
Moderated by: DeAndrea Nichols
Breakout Workshops
  • BlackSpace
  • Designing in Color
  • AI in the Loop
Closing Remarks
Closing Keynote: Deanna Van Buren
October 6

Black Futurism, let's define it!

Registration 📋
Breakfast 🥓
Opening Remarks
  • Nature-Inspired Futures: Exploring Biomimicry as a tool for people of color
  • Black Quantum Futurism Collective
  • The Just City Lab Cypher Session
  • BlackSpace
Conference Closing


Extending the dialogue of black futurism through politics, design and justice.


Pierce Freelon

Pierce Freelon is a professor, director, musician, Emmy-Award winning producer, and a millennial politician who is running for North Carolina State Senate.

He is the founder of Blackspace, a digital maker space in Durham where young people learn about music, film and coding. He is the writer, composer and co-director of an animated series called History of White People in America, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. He is a co-founder of Beat Making Lab, a PBS web-series, which won Best Video Essay for its episode Heartbeats of Fiji at the 2015 Daytime Emmy Awards.

Born and raised in Durham, Pierce ran for Mayor in 2017 on a platform of Community, Growth, Youth and Love. He is currently a candidate for North Carolina State Senate.

Pierce earned a BA in African and African American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and an MA in Pan African Studies at Syracuse University. He has taught music, political science, and African American studies at both UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University.

Pierce lives in Durham with his wife of 11 years and their two children.


Deanna Van Buren

Deanna Van Buren is the design director and co-founder of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces (DJDS), an architecture and real estate development non-profit working to end mass incarceration by building infrastructure that attacks its root causes: poverty, racism, unequal access to resources, and the criminal justice system itself.

Unlike the traditional adversarial and punitive architecture of justice—courthouses, prisons and jails—the Oakland-based DJDS creates spaces and buildings for restorative justice, rehabilitation and community building.

Van Buren’s most notable projects include: Restore Oakland, a multi-use hub for restorative justice and workforce development in East Oakland, created in collaboration with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United); the Near Westside Peacemaking Center in Syracuse, New York; Pop-Up Village, a mobile event that brings a constellation of resources to under-resourced communities; and The Women’s Mobile Refuge Center, a mobile overnight space for women who have recently been released from incarceration.

A pioneering activist, Van Buren has been recognized internationally for her leadership in using architecture, design, and real estate innovations to address the social inequities behind the mass incarceration crisis. Her 2017 TEDWomen talk on what a world without prisons could look like has been viewed more than one million times, and she is the only architect to have been awarded the Rauschenberg Artist as Activist fellowship.

Van Buren is also the recipient of UC Berkeley’s prestigious 2018 Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Prize and Professorship, which awards $100,000 biannually to a design practitioner who has made a significant contribution to advancing gender equity in architecture, and whose work emphasizes a commitment to sustainability and community.

Van Buren received her BS in architecture from the University of Virginia and her MA from Columbia University. She is an alumnus of the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.


Trained as both an engineer and as an architect, Felecia Davis is known for her rigorous investigation of Architextiles. Or rather, using digital soft fabrication and computation, Davis studies the intersection of architecture and textile production in the pursuit of constructing inhabitable space.

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As Principal of her own firm, Allison Grace Williams’s execution of commercial, civic, and corporate projects allows her to lead by example; Williams’s designs seamlessly integrate urban context, history, climate, and cultural demands with her personal and professional design agendas.

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Landscape architect, author, and program director of landscape architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington, Diane Jones Allen creates work committed to environmental justice, sustainability, and the cultural significance of landscape while advocating for the transformative potential of design.

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Toni L. Griffin is the founder of Urban Planning and Design for the American City, based in New York. Through the practice, Toni served as Project Director the long range planning initiative of the Detroit Work Project, and in 2013 completed and released Detroit Future City, a comprehensive citywide framework plan for urban transformation.

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Co-founder of the Design Studio for Social Intervention (ds4si). His interests focus on the research and development of design tools for marginalized communities to address complex social issues. With over three decades of experience in community practice, Bailey brings a unique perspective on the ethics of design in relation to community engagement, the arts and cultural action.

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Raised in Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia by parents who vastly expanded his understanding of the world through travel. This early exposure to people of different cultures led to his interest in cultivating genuine relationships and discovering the inherent differences and similarities that define people and communities.

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A Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist, designer, creative technologist, and researcher who is passionate about exploring the relationships between various forms of design and the human experience.

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An out-of-the-box thinker who pushes hard for equity and inclusion for those that are undervalued and overlooked. Her goal is inclusion, by creating and supporting additional pipelines that enhances the city's innovation mix by focusing on women, housing, technology, and entrepreneurship.

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Jerome Harris

Jerome Harris

Jerome Harris is a graphic designer originally from New Haven, Connecticut and currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Harris holds an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University and a BA from Temple University. Harris is the Design Director of Housing Works, a non-profit organization fighting the HIV/AIDS and homelessness crisis in New York City.

Billy Almon

Billy Almon

Billy Almon is a designer and storyteller who highlights the connection between nature, technology, and design. Over the last 3 years Billy has been traveling around the world exploring how biological strategies are being used to inspire solutions to human challenges through the process called Biomimicry.

Denise Shanté Brown is a holistic design strategist, mental health advocate, creative healer and feminist entrepreneur co-designing possibilities for health and healing in Baltimore.

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Nia Evans

Nia Evans

Nia K. Evans is the Director of the Boston Ujima Project. Her educational background is in the areas of labor relations, education leadership, and policy. Her advocacy includes a focus on eliminating barriers between analysts and people with lived experiences as well as increasing acknowledgement of the value of diverse types of expertise in policy.

Charles Wallace-Thomas IV

Charles Wallace-Thomas IV

Charles is a third-year student at Northeastern University studying Economics and Mathematics with a minor in Psychology. At Northeastern, Charles is the Director of Northeastern Students Against Institutional Discrimination (SAID), a coalition of student activists confronting institutional marginalization by empowering students to become better organizers through political education and direct action.

Adolphus Opara

Adolphus Opara

Adolphus Opara (Lagos, Nigeria). Opara’s work is induced by encounters with people and their daily effort to exist amidst obstacles that define and situate their individual locality. Opara uses visual storytelling to better understand as well as to show his connection to the issues that confronts him daily. Opara’s work has been widely exhibited at many international venues including the Tate Modern in London.

Through a multidisciplinary creative practice, De Nichols mobilizes global changemakers to activate ideas that address civic and social challenges within their communities. Based in St. Louis, MO, De Nichols serves as the Social Impact Design Principal of Civic Creatives, a design strategy agency that develops interactive experiences, tools, and initiatives to help communities engage issues of civic disengagement, youth development, social inclusion, food access and security, and arts & cultural policy.

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Our Sponsors

Our Donors

Chris Daemmrich

Chris Reed

Cole Townsend

Danielle Choi

Ekene Ijeoma

Elizabeth Trost

Emma Ogiemwanye

Little Wing Lee

Natasha Rodriguez-Bacchus

Shay Bennett

For any accessibility accommodations please contact the events office at (617) 496-2414 or send an email to