Two months after being elected co-president, I made a choice.

Gravel path leads to worn wooden planks extending into a rocky dry grass landscape without trees
photo courtesy of Nic Jackson via Little Visuals

Today

Two months after being named co-president of AIGA Chicago, I’m stepping aside—not down—and looking forward to what’s next. Next for the board, the chapter, the community, and myself.

Of course I feel a bit sheepish leaving my new post so quickly, but I know the feeling of regret—staying in the wrong role for three long years—would have been far worse for me and every volunteer and board member I reluctantly led.

The decision wasn’t easy, but it was clear. Here’s why I made the choice and why I remain committed in spirit to the AIGA Chicago Board…

Yesterday

After three years as AIGA Chicago’s first-ever Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion, I made the decision to share in the co-presidency alongside my friend and colleague, Valerie Craig. I struggled with this choice out of a desire to focus on my young family and simplify my work and project commitments. But I submitted my application because I believe in the work we’ve started and its impact — however modest — on the Chicago design community.

This was months before the present moment’s pandemic and protests and public calls to #boycottAIGA.

The confluence of these world-changing events and my mounting frustration and disappointment with AIGA National drove me to a point of reckoning and reprioritization:

“How could I adequately serve the design community and AIGA Chicago when I was struggling to just care for my family emotionally and collaborate with my colleagues professionally—let alone my own mental health?”

I also realized what limited time and energy I do have must be spent helping young Black and Latinx creators prosper—this is imperative.

And still I struggled with my imminent departure. I kept coming back to our chapter’s diversity and inclusion efforts over the last several years, heartened by what our board and volunteers launched and led: Design Pride, On The Daily, Well Aware, Portraits of Color, Design Ethics Roundtable, and our own independent Membership & Community Surveys.

Holding both these truths: I can no longer lead in good conscious and I cannot abandon the hard work of others—I resigned from the board but will remain involved as an advisor.

Tomorrow

Reflecting on past successes, I know it’s still not enough. While there are clear synergies, we cannot conflate diversity and inclusion efforts with anti-racism work. That work requires new partnerships, strategies, and understanding we don’t have yet. The board is aware of these deficiencies and looking to partner with individuals and organizations to learn from and model itself after.

As an advisor to the AIGA Chicago Board, I believe there are three areas to focus on moving forward:

  1. Expand Board Leadership
    With concerted effort we’ve changed the composition of our board to include more leaders of color and continue to create an environment more conducive to inclusion and belonging, but it’s still not reflective of Chicago’s racial makeup. There’s an opportunity to partner with an external Chicago DEIB consultancy to help us improve our volunteer recruiting and retention.
  2. Focus Programming & Events
    Dissatisfied with the Design Census, we partnered with Culture Amp in 2018 to survey our membership as well as our broader (non-member) design community. The findings exposed our failings as a chapter and helped determine all our programming for 2019. In addition to fielding both surveys again this year, there’s an opportunity to center our content on education and mentorship — two areas we can serve Black and Brown creatives better.
  3. Build Sustained Community Partnerships
    To date our partnerships have primarily been through event sponsorship and local white-owned studios and agencies — limiting our outreach and providing a myopic view of the Chicago creative scene. There’s an opportunity to identify and partner with BIPOC individual practitioners and studios — as well arts & culture organizations — to collaborate on longer-term initiatives.

This is a start. These three opportunities are obvious and immediate things we can do now. I know the Board remains committed to learning from these experiences and listening to our Chicago community to do more. AIGA Chicago can mark progress along the way, but there is no finish line. There is no end to anti-racism work. We must all continue to challenge one another, hold each other accountable, and create a foundation and scaffolding for future community building. I’m confident they’ll use social media, events, Medium, and town halls to share updates and progress (and failures) as they evolve.

Beyond

The AIGA Chicago board has an avalanche of work ahead — the majority of which is internally focused. To that end, they’re winding down programming for the summer to reflect and recalibrate in order to show up better for the design community this fall.

We also know the design community is too vast and ever-changing to be served by any one group or trade association. There are countless organizations and affiliates doing industry-altering work right now that do not have the baggage of a 106-year-old institution to contend with. I encourage you to explore them and get involved.

And remember you don’t need to be a member of AIGA to attend chapter events, volunteer to help, or join the board. If you find our programming valuable, participate. If you find our perspectives insightful, share them alongside your own. If you find our volunteer opportunities exciting, get involved. If any of this sounds interesting, please reach out directly to Kelly Knaga (Executive Director) or Valerie Craig (President).

Eternal thanks to Kelly Knaga, Valerie Craig, Dave Pabellon and the entire AIGA Chicago Board for their understanding and support.

design leader, public speaker, educator, illustrator, yearly marathoner, occasional beat selector, Head of Design @TableXI, founder & host of @DadwellCo