Not long ago, Antionette Carroll, founder of the social justice nonprofit Cre-
ative Reaction Lab (CRXLab), conducted an experiment in her hometown of St.
Louis. She went into three Aldi supermarkets—one in a predominantly African-American, low-income community, another in a middle-class neighborhood,
and a third in a wealthy, predominantly white enclave. “It’s the same store, but
the layout was completely different,” Carroll says. In the latter two, produce
and healthy snacks greeted customers walking through the doors, but in the
lower-income neighborhood supermarket, customers immediately encountered
chips and cookies. Even grocery store food aisles, Carroll says, can perpetuate
inequality. “That’s a design decision,” she says.
A graphic designer, Carroll has long been interested in both design and so-
cial justice, but her thinking about the two coalesced in new ways following the
shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, in 2014. In the uproar and unrest that
followed, she saw problems she believed could be addressed through design.
She convened a 24-hour challenge that brought local designers together with
community members to create projects that could foster conversation across
racial and socioeconomic divides. The first session spawned several initiatives,
including the Red Table Project (an ongoing series of meals that brings together
community members who otherwise would not meet), Guerilla Art Warfare
(stickers and stenciled imagery, such as an African-American silhouette with
hands up, that could be placed in neighborhoods to challenge biases), and Cards
Against Brutality (an educational game designed for police officers).
As her work progressed, Carroll realized CRXLab was creating a new kind
of methodology, something she
dubbed Equity-Centered Community Design, combining the rigors of
design problem solving with community outreach and open conversation between groups that might not
typically communicate. The organization is providing members of historically underserved and neglected
people—a framework and language
to create specific civic proposals to
improve life in those neighborhoods.
Carroll has been traveling the
country to conduct workshops.
“Every city has its own challenges
when it comes to racial equity,” she
says. “You look at Flint, and there’s
an environmental justice pipeline.
Here, in St. Louis, we’re focused on
police and community relations. We
built our model so that others can
use it.” —EA
Designing for Social
Equity-Centered Community Design
Creative Reaction Lab