Q&A with Curtis L. Webb III

Meet Curtis L. Webb III. Curtis joined Design Impact in July 2020 as a Senior Researcher, bringing a wealth of knowledge to the team. Read on to learn more about his deep commitment to equity, what keeps him up at night, and what are some of his creative outlets.

 

Q: What is your role at DI?

A: I’m excited because at DI I expect to have a role that allows more than my title suggests. Officially, I answered the call to be a researcher. However, I am looking forward to the ways I can utilize my research and professional experiences in the social innovation realm and in non-traditional ways. Excited to navigate DI’s Human-centered Design approach as a trained & proclaimed scholar-activist from a sociological background, with community-based participatory action research experience. Excited to challenge myself and contribute to the goals and mission of the DI team.

One of the major differences from my previous research experiences is the application. In many of the former spaces, we centered our goals on creating theories on how the world operates and how inequities show up. I learned through my former work with The Cincinnati Project how important it was to not stop at theory creation or validation, but to continue that process towards application or strategy. While at DI, I plan to continue this work as we consider both barriers to an equitable society and pathways or examples to this equitable society, regardless of how formidable barriers may appear. In essence, I am excited to get to the business of getting to the business. I am guided by this question in my role, inspired by the quote from the activist Fred Hampton: What is theory without practice?

 

Q: What are you working on these days?

A: These days I think the most important thing I have been doing is working on myself and my connections with people. Without getting into too many specifics, I believe that by strengthening and deepening my connections, as well as reflecting and implementing ways on how to be patient and reflexive with those around me, will extend to other areas of my life. I am excited to bring that to DI on both external and internal projects. I’ve already started working on projects centered on institutional changes, and more specifically, projects that force us to consider how to center racial equity in workspaces, policies, creating new leaders, and community power. Very happily anxious to see the translation this potentially holds.

 

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: In the 2015 song “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar, he begins the song with the unforgettable line from the classic film, The Color Purple (1985), “alls my life I has to fight.” This statement still resonates with the Black experience 35 years later. But this statement joined with Kendrick’s repeating chorus, “But We Gon’ Be Alright” tells the full story of vulnerable peoples’ lives. I am kept up at night because I am weary of vulnerable communities having to broadcast and relive our trauma to be heard. As we do work towards social change, we must acknowledge the real-life consequences of oppression without allowing these realities to ignore the agency, expertise, and localized power oppressed people have used to navigate, deconstruct, and reimagine oppressive systems. If my grandmother cannot read and find application in my work, then is my work truly valuable? Do the most vulnerable amongst us benefit from our work?

 

Q: What are some of your creative outlets?

A: Is this the space to talk about my guilty pleasures? Food! No, but seriously. Music definitely tops my list. I love music, exploring new music, and making playlists. If I could choose any other career, I would be a DJ for the Quiet Storm, playing R & B Classics in the evenings. I also enjoy opportunities to gather with friends and family. I love learning and connecting with and from them. Haven’t had as much time to do it lately, but I’m into Sci-Fi/Future dystopia books and shows from a Black lens. I love to see Black cultural influences in this genre. Like why can’t I have my Beyonce or Hip-Hop with my dystopian future fantasy? Can you imagine the hunger games with a Cardi B backdrop? Speaking of music, I love dancing. Who wants to get served? Am I aging myself here?

 

Q: What are some causes you’re passionate about?

A: I think this is an interesting question because it is difficult to name a specific cause when the cause I am passionate about is liberation for all. But if I had to narrow in on some focus areas of liberation I feel specifically skilled and called to at this very moment I’d have to say: Liberation for All Black Lives, wealth/income inequity, the development of community and healing spaces for Black men, housing inequities, youth development.

 

Q: What drew you to DI? And how do your superpowers lend themselves to what you do now at DI?

A: I think I was drawn to DI for three main reasons. First, the opportunity to put my skills into action in this challenging environment and work of institutional and systems-level change.

Secondly, after initial meetings with the DI team and learning more about what DI did through my own research and helpful perspectives from my network, I envisioned DI as a bridge-builder. DI is an organization that seemed to be positioned to both champion community power and leverage its position to push institutions towards equitable places.

Lastly, I am excited to work on a creative team that values learning, wholeness, and quite frankly where I feel my positionality as a Black man will be valued and where I feel some semblance of safety in an unsafe world. My superpowers overlap quite a bit with DI’s missions and goals. I think I bring a creative approach to problem-solving and excel at synthesis. Although I personally am not a fan of puzzles, I do enjoy putting metaphorical puzzles together. As DI and the world continue to push towards this space where we center racial equity, I believe both my lived experiences and background studying this very topic will aid our efforts.

 

Q: When you’re not at DI, where can we find you?

A:  If you would have asked me this question months ago my answer would have been totally different. So I’ll approach this question in a two-pronged way. First, where could you find me in a non-social distancing world? I enjoy seeing the sights, having new experiences, spending quality time with friends and family, and food! Needless to say, The Taste of Cincinnati and The Black Taste of Cincinnati were some of my favorite events. When not out, you could have found me stringing random activities together with friends like watching Tiny Desk performances then enjoying a cool visit to X place.

Nowadays, when I’m not transitioning from my home workspace to my couch, I’m trying to catch up on the backlog of streaming shows I have to watch. I am in my kitchen trying out new recipes. I’m willing to try almost anything once. Social distance walks have become a new favorite as I’ve grown to appreciate outside and nature so much more. At some point, I will move past staring at my bike, and using that to explore the city. When not at DI I am taking time to recharge alone and with community.

 

Q: What is one highlight from the past year?

A: When I was thinking about these, I realized what dominated my headspace was all the growth that has happened over the past year. Not just my growth, but the growth of those around me. Here are some things I wanted to share:

  • I had to start with the biggie. I am getting a WHOLE PhD. Happy to have reached the end of the journey, and grateful for the growth I had to do along the way, and the people who supported me along the way. *Hits the Mily Rock*
  • During my graduate school journey, I was invested in a community-partnered research organization called The Cincinnati Project. It was integral to my personal growth, and desire to do work to uplift community power. Over the last year, I witnessed huge growth that made me excited to see where it would go in the future, even without me on the team.
  • To do the systems level change so many of us talk about we need to support normally overlooked groups. During the past year, I saw tremendous heights reached by organizations established to support Black graduate students, Black professional students, and Black professionals.
  • *Cues Beyonce’s Friends* This past year my community of friends continued to reflect internally and grew externally! I love all of the W’s! Too many to list here.
  • Last year I attended soooooo many concerts. I love live musical performances. One of my favorites was the Millenium Tour, which took me back down memory lane.
  • Personally, I became an uncle earlier this year. Hey, baby Nia!
  • More than anything, I am proud of my younger sister who decided to take a chance on herself. She moved abroad and is now successfully working and living continents away! Super proud that she is doing all the things!