February 28, 2019
AIA New Jersey has a very short history of African American Presidents. A list of two, to be exact, and those two history-making leaders were the only pair of AIA New Jersey Presidents that were a parent and son. This relationship may be a possible reason for both men to have risen to AIA New Jersey’s highest seat.
William M. Brown, Jr., AIA, and William M. Brown, III, AIA
AIA New Jersey had the opportunity to interview Bill Brown, III, to share some of the family histories with our members.
Bill was encouraged in the field of architecture from a very young age and blessed with strong, nurturing role models. At nine years old, Bill started working for his dad. Bill’s father’s office, Brown & Hale Architects, founded in 1952, was always open to him. They were hard on Bill III, but it was still a great blessing. While working and learning, Bill would also enjoy the company and the positive influence of his father’s friends and professional peers, like Ralph Jefferson and Van Breuer, FAIA. Speculation could arrive at the idea that Bill III being around so regularly may have been a motivator for Bill Jr. to strive to be AIA NJ president, if for no reason other than to show his son that despite there being no previous African American leaders in AIA NJ, that it was possible!
Edward T. Bowser Sr., born in 1901, was a lifelong resident of East Orange and had a big influence on Bill III. Bowser participated in community affairs and was the first African-American chairman of the city board of adjustment. He was a member of the East Orange Planning Board, the Advisory Committee for the East Orange Golf Course and the East Orange Parking Authority. He served on the Committee of Management for the YMCA, was chairman of the Salvation Army Board, East Orange Police Commissioner, and was an advisor to the Youth Church Council. Along with Bill Brown Jr.’s community service example, seeing Bowser’s accomplishments helped Bill to believe that there was plenty of opportunity for him and that there was a great reward in giving back.
In the 1960’s Brown and Hale really provided Bill with a well-rounded foundation in the profession. He felt well equipped and comfortable in the office and was ready to expand that circle of experience. For a few summers in his late teens, Bill III worked in construction for Ken Bowser, gaining valuable experience. Bill graduated Howard University in 1977 and envisioned that he would be taking off to travel the United States, work at many different firms to allow for a great, varied professional opportunity, and then strike out on his own. Before he could even announce his plans, his father called out, “See you at work on Monday.” After seven years at his father’s firm, Bill finally told his dad he had to leave and try to stand on his own two feet. He compounded his professionalism with each new employer.
Shortly thereafter, in 1986, Bill Jr. was president of AIA New Jersey. That was also the time of Bill III meeting the great Eleanore K. Pettersen, FAIA, the first woman president of AIA New Jersey, just one year before his father became the first African American president. It was a time of momentous groundbreaking at AIA NJ. Between Eleanore and his dad, Bill saw that it was really up to members like him to set out searching for the next generation of architects, meeting students and telling them that they all are welcome: women, minorities, everyone! From about that time, and for the next 15 or so years, Bill III worked to engage the youth from the St. Phillips Academy to become more aware of the community around them. Bill brought in LEGOS, took the students on tours of Newark, sponsored their participation in competitions, hosted career days, immersed himself into the schools and brought the students out into the architecture of their own communities. He also began his ascension in the ranks of AIA New Jersey. In 1995, Bill III was president of AIA Newark and Suburban.
An excerpt from the AIA Newark and Suburban Rostrum Newsletter of that year includes this message:
“The gifted experience and knowledge that Architects possess can be shared with others as we grow towards enhancing and enriching our profession.”
1995 President William M. Brown, III, AIA
It was during this time that Bill developed some of the greatest friendships of his career.
“I have had the pleasure of knowing William M. Brown, III, AIA, for the last 40 years. Bill is one of the finest gentlemen I have ever had the privilege of knowing and I’m proud to call him my friend. When I first met Bill, he spoke only kind words of encouragement about being an architect and of the profession. It was from that moment that our friendship began. But, it was during the spring of 1994, when I was attending the AIA Newark & Suburban Trade Show, that Bill approached me and asked me to attend an AIA Newark & Suburban Section Board meeting. It was through Bill’s guidance and friendship that I found myself involved with AIA and volunteering my time to the profession, which I never regretted. More than anything I learned from Bill’s leadership by how he conducted himself and how respectful he was with all AIA members. Bill has shown his fellow architects his leadership abilities, as he served throughout the years and ultimately as AIA New Jersey President in 2002. Whatever AIA office, committee chair, or task force Bill has been involved with over the years he has handled it with respect, success, and attention to detail primarily because he takes the time to care.
As an architect, Bill has shown that he is a very sensitive designer, relentlessly attentive to his projects and his clients. His designs are of a quality that emphatically answered all facets of the standard of care, by which architects practice.”
~ Current NJ State Board of Architects Member and AIA New Jersey Past President and Regional Director, Bob Cozzarelli, FAIA.
Bill explained, “The shortage of African American members and leaders in AIA New Jersey has never discouraged me. I’ve had great friends and colleagues in AIA who have worked beside me throughout. I have personally tried to always encourage my African American architect peers to join committees, to get more involved, to step up into leadership roles. I have always told myself to let my work speak for me and that has served me well.” Ten years after his term as AIA NJ President, Bill served as President of the National Organization of Minority Architects. Always reaching for the next opportunity to be a positive influence and using his leadership skills for the good of his brothers and sisters.
These days, Bill has his own practice in Verona, NJ, as well as working for the Hudson County Engineering Department as a staff architect. He is a long-time member and chairman of the Verona Planning Board. Bill is a mentor to students through the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO). A young woman student from Newark has won the gold medal. A Bronze Medal winner from East Orange is now a freshman at Howard University, Bill III’s Alma Mater. Bill believes it is a blessing to work with the students and speak with the parents. He knows that architects need to especially reach out to urban school systems. He finds those schools tend not to have computers software or CAD programs to give students exposure like their more suburban counterparts.
Bill’s achievements have not gone unnoticed. In 2018, Bill and his wife, Sharon, were presented with the Nelson Mandela Freedom Award from the Greater Newark Conservancy. To learn more about this recent recognition, click here.
While AIA New Jersey may have few stories of African American leaders to share, we could not be prouder of the two we can!
Through sharing this history and reaching out to meet our African American members, AIA New Jersey hopes to attract more minority leaders throughout the organization in the near term as well as the long term. We hope you will encourage your peers, as well.
By Stacey Ruhle Kliesch, AIA, AIA NJ Advocacy Consultant | Posted in AIA Newark and Suburban, AIA-NJ News, Diversity, EquityInArchitecture | Tagged: #AIANewarkandSuburban, #BlackHistoryMonth, #diversity, #equity, #Inclusion, #WilliamMBrownIIIAIA, BHM, WIlliamMBrownJrAIA | Comments (2)
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