Meet Mukhtara Yusuf, Equitable Design Coordinator with Human Solutions

Human Solutions is pleased to introduce you to Mukhtara Yusuf (they/them), a decolonial designer who began a two-year fellowship with us in October 2020 through Enterprise Community Partners’ Rose Fellowship program. While they have been working remotely from day one, Mukhtara’s impact within our organization has already been significant (mostly over Zoom!). They are helping our physical spaces – like housing, shelters, offices and service centers – be inclusive, trauma-informed and welcoming to all who use them, especially BIPOC folks (who historically have been less considered). In addition, Mukhtara emphasizes inclusive processes to carry out the design process.

Mukhtara is Yoruba, from what is now known as southwestern Nigeria, and has spent many years in the United States, starting in their childhood. Their design background is at the intersection of environmentalism and culturally responsive, trauma-informed community engagement. In their work, it is clear that design is far more than the object being designed. In fact, the process we create and follow is equally important, because it is the process that enables expansion or constriction of possibility.

To this end, Mukhtara has begun considering and testing more inclusive and meaningful community-input processes that specifically center Black and Indigenous peoples in the architectural design process. Ideally, our affordable-apartment communities work well for the families who live there, reflecting familiar and useful spaces and visual designs. To get there, we need equitable design thinking and relevant, meaningful input from start to finish, beginning with early concept thinking through construction and into furnishings, paint colors and art.

Some projects Mukhtara has improved through their uniquely inclusive, BIPOC-focused design processes:

  • Curating wall art for a new mixed-income housing community in the Gateway neighborhood, The Nick Fish;
  • Curating wall art and furnishings for our new anchor office and service center in East Portland;
  • Leading a beautifully connected internal team to cultivate the seen and unseen culture at our new office and service center;
  • Helping to update our brand as we do more social justice work, specifically gathering input from staff and our external community; and
  • Researching history and amplifying neighborhood storytelling around our new housing community in Rosewood.

Some questions Mukhtara is exploring during their time at Human Solutions:

  • What does trauma-informed design look like when it does not include Eurocentric design assumptions (e.g., what colors feel soothing)?
  • What does care that is simultaneously anti-racist and trauma-informed look like? How do these intentional approaches change design and design processes? With this approach to care and design in mind, how must we adapt institutional structures and make whole new choices?
  • How can we professionalize local, historically excluded community artists, especially Black and Indigenous peoples? How can Human Solutions support these groups in their self-sufficient community-building?
  • How can we incorporate healthier materials into our construction projects to promote better mental and physical health for participants and our team?

As Human Solutions continues our internal work to become an anti-racist organization with equitable results, hosting someone with Mukhtara’s expertise and talent is a real gift.

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Education: Mukhtara has an MFA from the University of Texas Department of Design, an MA from University of California Department of Communication, and a BA from Dartmouth College.

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About Enterprise Community Partners’ Rose Fellowship