The African American Leadership Forum (AALF) is currently developing a Black-centered Design (BCD) process, informed by Human-centered Design, to solve some of the African American community’s most challenging problems.

We reached out to our Program Director, LaCora Bradford Kesti, to talk about this innovative concept and how it can be used to help our community thrive!

What is Black-centered Design (BCD) and why is it a necessary aspect of African American empowerment? 

Bradford Kesti: Black-centered Design (BCD) is a process in which Black people use their inherent knowledge to collectively create solutions to problems. In the African American community there are many examples of other people coming into the Black community and trying to save Black people. “The Savior Complex,” best defined as “a psychological construct that makes a person feel the need to save other people. While this complex is rooted in good intentions it cripples the Black community and strips it of its power. Black-centered Design is centering Black people in an intentional way. It collectively and individually allows the Black community to harness its own power by creating space for Black people to reflect on what’s happening in community and for Black people to be able to create solutions to the challenges they face. Alice Walker said it best: “We are the ones that we have been waiting for.” The Black community is powerful and resilient and can create solutions for community change.

What is the relationship between the work taking place in AALF’s Collective Impact initiative and the Black-centered design (BCD) framework you’re currently developing? 

AALF’s Collective Impact work is using human-centered design foundations to break down our four focus areas. Task Force members have created problem statements using the human-centered design process. Black-centered Design takes the problem statements and goes deeper. We use the BCD process to get more members of the Black community involved and bring more Black people to the table in what we call a community harvest. The Community Harvest is the first step in the BCD model. Currently, the Collective Impact Task Force is hosting this event to align the initial problem statements identified with real community organizations and individuals. The Black community will be able to reflect on the problems and provide the insights needed to solve them.

How does BCD differ from other programmatic practices that seek to center African Americans and communities of color? What makes it different from culturally relevant practices? How does it, specifically, center Black people?

I am unaware of any other programmatic practices that seek to center the African American experience or the experiences of other communities of color. BCD provides an intentional space for folks who identify as African American or Black to come to a process and use their minds to think critically and intentionally about how to create solutions to the most challenging problems they face. The level of intentionally that one has to bring to the space and self-awareness of knowing and not knowing when to call upon others is what makes this process really special.

Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings is the creator of culturally relevant practices. She created this pedagogy to inform teachers on how to work effectively with a diverse array of students and to use the students’ cultural lenses as a form of teaching. When you have students with a cultural lens that doesn’t match the school’s cultural lens, information can get lost for the student. The two cultural lenses can be at odds with one another during the filtering of the information process. The cultural relevant response is one that allows the culture lens of the student and the classroom to work in harmony.

That being said, cultural responsiveness elements are present in Black-Centered Design. BCD is centering, specifically, people who identify as African American or Black and using that cultural lens to think about how to create solutions. In cultural responsiveness BCD isn’t at odds with another culture. BCD is taking culturally relevant/responsiveness to another level and saying you don’t need to filter any other culture. You get to use your inherent knowledge to create solutions to the challenges you face in community. This new design approach to community development is critical for the African American community, as it enables us to continue building our own capacity with our own cultural lens.

Learn more about our Collective Impact work.