FEATURE — Spring 2010

Among accomplished alumni in New York are Richard Franklin and Donna Blackwell. Franklin, AB ’70, MAUD ’74, is an associate partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas, LLP; Blackwell, MA ’76, PhD ’83, serves as CEO of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation. (Photo: Dwight Carter)

In Step: Working Toward Social Transformations

Alumni Donna Blackwell and Richard Franklin design spaces and places for building relationships and social justice.

By Jan Garden Castro

Just as husband-and-wife team Donna Blackwell and Richard Franklin devote themselves to each other, they dedicate themselves to their work and to assisting others.

Blackwell, MA ’76, PhD ’83, serves as CEO of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation. A seasoned executive, she leads efforts “to advance human and women’s rights and make resources available to vulnerable people and communities around the world.”

Franklin, AB ’70, MAUD ’74, is an associate partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas, LLP, and one of the architects responsible for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center. Formerly assistant chief architect with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, he has overseen large-scale, multi-million-dollar projects his entire career.

Modest about their accomplishments, Blackwell and Franklin nonetheless hold high-profile positions with transformative impact.

(Photo: Dwight Carter)

Donna Blackwell (above) is CEO of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, which helps people and societies create cultures of peace. Some of the foundation’s programs focus on young people (below), building on the work and wisdom of Archbishop Tutu. The goal is to foster effective methods for peaceful living through reconciliation and restorative practices.

(Courtesy Photo)

Creating a peace movement
Blackwell and the Peace Foundation strive toward two main missions: raising funds to build a nonsectarian peace center in Cape Town, South Africa, and developing interactive programs called YPeace. YPeace organizes conceptually around peace within (inner peace), peace between people, and peace among nations. Blackwell expects to see a lot of growth in these programs in 2010.

“We are in preliminary conversations with the United Nations International School, the nationally acclaimed Harlem Children’s Zone, the New School University, and the Girl Scouts of the USA,” she says. Grants, to date, have come from the Novo Foundation, the Seattle International Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Oprah is committed to helping us, and the same is true of the Dalai Lama,” Blackwell continues.

Of the Peace Foundation, Archbishop Desmond Tutu says: “I gave my name to the foundation because truth, forgiveness, reconciliation, and other transformative methods must be institutionalized and become part of cultures around the world. This will make it possible for the human family to be as one, and that is ultimately the solution to poverty, violence, disease, and war.” Of Blackwell’s efforts, Tutu continues, “Donna Blackwell is a very capable executive who is deeply committed to developing new strategies and initiatives that make transformative methods accessible to people around the world who wish to participate in the peace movement.”

Building relationships through architecture
Since 2007, Franklin’s huge workload at Davis Brody Bond Aedas, LLP, has included the construction phase of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the former World Trade Center site.

“I’ve always prided myself on working on projects that have social relevance. It’s an honor and privilege if architecture can bring people together.”

“This is one of the most interesting and complex projects I’ve ever worked on,” Franklin says. “I’ve always prided myself on working on projects that have social relevance. It’s an honor and privilege if architecture can bring people together to understand how small this world is and how important our relationship is to it and to each other.”

University as starting point
Blackwell met Franklin about 30 years ago as part of her field research for a dissertation in counseling psychology. “My research was designed to define why less than 1 percent of women and African Americans entered math-centered professions and to get some answers from people in ‘math and science-based careers,’” Blackwell says. “A friend suggested that I interview an ‘older architect,’ one highly respected for his community planning, rehabbing, and designs.”

Blackwell discovered that Franklin was only slightly older. She admits, shyly, that it was love at first sight. Franklin is more circumspect, yet his eyes sparkle when he recalls: “She wore a blue skirt and a blue-and-white blouse. Then we met again later, and one thing led to another.” The couple married in 1982.

Education as foundation
Blackwell, whose family roots in New York date back to the 1700s, moved to St. Louis in 1965 when her father, Charles R. Blackwell, MD, HS ’68, became the first black resident in anesthesiology at Barnes Hospital. After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Missouri, and studying law there for a year, Donna Blackwell became coordinator of student affairs at Washington University in 1972. This assignment led to her becoming director of housing and residential life in 1974.

“The University wanted students to have a rich experience in and out of class,” Blackwell recalls. “I was encouraged to remake the residential life program. I worked with the Graduate Institute of Education to design a staff training program. We developed peer counseling techniques and taught the importance of diversity without using that word.”

Becoming a student again was Blackwell’s next step. As she completed the master’s and doctoral programs in counseling psychology, she became skilled at counseling women facing domestic violence, sexual harassment, and low-paying jobs. Though not much older than her clients, Blackwell realized these women lacked resources and faced systemic gender barriers that counseling could not “fix.” That’s when she made a career change.

Blackwell did not own a suit when she began to work for attorney Wayman F. Smith III in a new department at Anheuser-Busch. “Wayman and I started small,” she says, “and by the time I left (as director of corporate affairs in 1986), our corporate affairs department had regional managers and programs in all communities where Anheuser-Busch had breweries.”

Blackwell spent some 30 years working for and being a management consultant for corporate and nonprofit organizations, including American Express, Avon Products, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, and now the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation.

“My goal as head of the foundation is to ensure that every child has an opportunity to get a good education—that my experience is not unique.”

In her office at the foundation, Blackwell shares a photo of a young Muslim girl raising her hand in a field classroom (a gift from UNICEF). “My goal as head of the foundation is to ensure that every child has an opportunity to get a good education—that my experience is not unique,” Blackwell says.

(Photo: Dwight Carter)
As associate partner of Davis Brody Bond Aedas, Richard Franklin (above) has been integrally involved in the construction administration of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. During his tenure at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Franklin worked on the design of the World Financial Center Ferry Terminal (below) in New York City, and he directed a team that included Risa Honig, AB ’82, MArch ’85. An extension of the promenade along the Hudson River, the terminal is open not only to ferry passengers but to residential, office, and casual pedestrians. It provides for social interaction and displays the relevance of architecture as a place.
(Courtesy Photo)

Succeeding through adversity
Richard Franklin recalls being the first African American to study architecture in the day program at Washington University in 1959. At age 14, living in a segregated St. Louis neighborhood, he decided to become an architect partly due to his admiration for musician Lester Young.

“As a Boy Scout, I needed three merit badges, but I couldn’t swim,” Franklin says. “While at Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney, a local department store and the only place in 1955 where blacks could shop openly, I saw a pamphlet showing a guy dressed like Lester Young—wearing a pork pie hat and a black cape. It was Frank Lloyd Wright.”

After reading about Wright’s work, Franklin desired to be an architect. “I never got the merit badge, though, for no white architect would mentor me.”

Yet Franklin studied drafting, math, and other subjects geared toward becoming an architect. His father, a history, political science, and English teacher, doubted his son would be able to get a job in architecture and secretly voiced this concern to the University’s architecture dean, Joseph Passonneau.

“At the time, there was only one practicing black architect in Missouri,” Franklin recalls. “I did well in the architecture courses, and that was what kept me in school. Had it not been for Dean Passonneau, though, I would not be here. Two other influential teachers were Leslie Laskey, who changed the way I looked at the world, and Constantine E. Michaelides, who literally bumped into me in Chicago and convinced me to go back to school.”

In 1963, Franklin had run out of tuition money and moved to Chicago. Although he faced racism in the profession, his hard work, excellent draftsmanship, and easy personality won him many lifelong friends.

“I look at my work in terms of four distinct periods,” Franklin says. “The first is project-focused, working in Chicago (1963–70) with great architects, such as Stanley Tigerman and Andrew Heard, whose office began across my kitchen table.” An early career highlight was working with Bruno Cantarano, the lead designer for the Mies van der Rohe Federal Center Project.

In the second period, starting in 1970, Franklin concentrated on community development back in St. Louis as a planner, both while a graduate student in urban design and later as a practicing architect.

“As a student, I worked with Barry Commoner’s Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to deal with lead poisoning and rat control issues. We assisted community activist Ivory Perry in developing the first lead poisoning laws in St. Louis,” Franklin says. (During this time, Franklin met J. Max Bond, who was implementing some of the earliest community rebuilding concepts in New York.)

Franklin and Blackwell moved to New York in 1985. During Franklin’s third period, 1985 to 2001, he spent 17 years working in senior positions for the Port Authority, where he managed the design of portals into and around New York City, such as the Lincoln Tunnel Toll Plaza, the Battery Park City Ferry Terminal, and the Kennedy and Newark airports, to name a few.

His fourth, most recent period began in 2001, when he became managing principal of Davis Brody Bond (2001–03), vice president of aviation/transportation architecture for STV (2003–07), and then associate partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas (2007–present).

One of Franklin’s top priorities is creating a place of commemoration and reverence at the former World Trade Center site for all the world to experience. Similarly engaged, Blackwell works to build peace for all the world.

Jan Garden Castro, MA ’74, MA ’94, is a New York–based, award-winning author/editor with an archive in Washington University’s Special Collections.