It is not lost on me that I am the first African American to serve as the President of AIA-Virginia. While I am extremely glad that it has never been a headline, a part of my introduction, or a justification for my holding the office, I do appreciate the historic significance of this opportunity. I must admit, though, that being a first is not something I have a lot of experience with. You see, all my life, I have followed in the footsteps of trailblazers who have suffered the slings and arrows of ‘firstendom’ to make it possible for my achievements to be unencumbered.
Even growing up, I had three siblings; one brother was the oldest and the other was the youngest, while my sister was the only girl. Me? I was in the middle. To give me a sense of uniqueness, a dear friend of my parents dubbed me the “only not only.” Being somewhat anonymous (or at least, tag-less) in my household left (as you can tell) a lasting imprint on my psyche, although I know my parents loved me.
My birth order was not my fault or my failing; just as our race, culture, creed, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation are not something that any of us get to choose. Most of us even inherited our religious affiliations. How we fit in the hearts and minds of others, however, is often weighted, fairly or unfairly, by those characteristics and attributes.
Throughout my tenure this year, I have tried to highlight the role that often overlooked and marginalized communities have played in design excellence. Obviously, I haven’t been able to mention everyone, and if you feel left out this year, believe me, I understand. It’s the story of my life.
There are architects from Native and indigenous communities, Asian and Asian American communities, and European communities whose work could have been highlighted and who have worked to make architecture more enduring, impactful, and relevant to our social fabric. I am sorry that you were not included this year in my writings. I leave it to future editions of our newsletter and writers of greater reach and intellect to complete that which is just now being heralded. Please know that over the course of this year, you have been in my heart, just not on my keyboard.
I have tried to traverse the Commonwealth and hear all of the voices of our membership. Sadly, the only chapter that I missed was my own. (Someone being left out seems to follow me wherever I go.) Through that experience, I have learned about the many wonderful things our local components have accomplished and the service that our members are receiving and doing to improve the quality of our environment.
In my particular case, the limitation was simply a matter of time. My relegation to “only not only” status makes me sensitive to others feeling left out. So, as I close my tenure I ask you to forgive me if you feel un-included. I hope you have learned something about a community that you might otherwise not have given thought to. I hope you might be inspired to write your own story that will include a contribution you have made to the grand idea that is architecture.
This has been an enriching experience for me and I am grateful for the support you have given me during this year. I am grateful to the staff for their dedicated work, and to our members for their commitment to service. I look forward to Mitch’s term, and I hope that I have left you with enough “nagging curiosities” to keep you engaged in the wonderful work that is AIA Virginia.
Robert L. Easter, NOMAC, FAIA
2022 AIA Virginia President