Lead image by Judy Sirota Rosenthal for the International Festival of Arts & Ideas
“You shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood to live in a better one,” Majora Carter once said.
That’s the moniker Carter, a community leader, consultant, real estate developer and multimedia creator (among others), has embodied since leaving her native South Bronx and returning on a mission.
Carter is nationally known as an urban revitalization specialist, especially for her efforts in her hometown. In 2006, she gained notoriety redeveloping and reopening the Hunt’s Point Riverside Park in the South Bronx, for which she secured over $3 million from the mayor’s budget. The area is now a national award-winning park.
For this triumph, and many others, Yale University and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas (IFAI) recognized Carter in New Haven Wednesday. Yale deemed Carter as a Poynter Fellow for contributions in media, and the IFAI awarded her the 7th Visionary Leadership Award.
Carter received the recognition from the IFAI at a luncheon with over 400 attendees from across the region. The award was established in 2010, and Carter joins the company of past recipients including New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, and HBO President Sheila Nevins, among others.
To continue the conversation, Carter joined George Knight, a renowned architect, at the Yale School of Architecture in Hastings Hall. Their exchange retraced Carter’s earlier life, her educational experiences, the United States under a new president and advice for budding architects, planners and visionaries.
Deborah Burke, dean and professor at the Yale School of Architecture, introduced Carter by calling her “a woman of extraordinary accomplishment and leadership.”
After the housing market crash of 2008, Burke got to know Carter while forming a nonprofit organization in New York City. The group acquired volunteer landscape architects and graphic designers to offer free services to aid entrepreneurial projects.
Carter’s help in the organization, Burke said, gave participants “great advice, provided many valuable connections, and confirmed for us the value of what we are doing.”
While discussing this weekend’s Women’s March and a Trump-led America, Carter said that now is the time for Americans to use their abilities to encourage positive community growth.
“Now is the time for us to be resilient, especially for those of you…who want to make the world a better place,” she said. “We can find a way to influence something. “As architecture, design, planning goes, we actually have the ability to help.”
Carter has come a long way, she says, since growing up as the youngest sibling in a house of 10 children. During her youth she often questioned whether to leave the South Bronx forever or to stay to build and develop new enterprises to level the inequities of her neighborhood.
Upon returning to pursue a film career, she said her mentor—a community developer—challenged her to follow her lead in advocating and promoting urban development. As her own toughest critic, Carter said she naturally refuted the task, but would soon assume the role because sometimes being uncomfortable is exactly what one needs.
Carter spoke of that type of courage in the advice she bestowed on the students, faculty and community members Wednesday evening.
“Just stand strong in your truth,” she said. “Even when it feels really weird and super uncomfortable. Getting comfortable with discomfort—of sticking your neck out, especially when you’re that scared—is probably something you should be doing.”