An Excerpt from the Book:
“Mentorship is hugely important for our kids’ future:
they need to have role models to believe it can be done”
Michael Kennedy started his architecture practice in 1980, branching out in later years to include engineering and construction management. KAI has received numerous awards, including the “Top 100 African American Owned Businesses in America” and “MBE Contractor of the year.” Michael has been named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by the St. Louis American and “Most Influential Minority Business Leader” by the St. Louis Business Journal.
My journey as an architect started in the 1955 when I was just nine years old. One morning, I was sitting on a pile of dirt, watching carpenters build new houses at Laclede Station and Bennett, just north of where Highway 40 was to be built a few years later. It was an area where upwardly mobile African Americans were building new houses.
I saw a black man drive up and get out of his Pontiac Grand Prix. I vividly recall that he was sharply dressed in a suit with what we called a “stingy brimmed” Knox hat and wing-tip Banister shoes. I saw this black man unroll his drawings and give direction to the white carpenters. He then rolled up those drawings, tiptoed out of the mud, got back in his car, and left – while the carpenters went back to work. That man was Charles Fleming. I did not realize it at the time, but Charles became an important role model for me. My parents were schoolteachers, but until Charles stepped out of that car, it had not occurred to me that a black man could have a job like that. A seed was planted.
As a Senior at Bishop Dubourg High School, I met with the guidance counselor and told him I was going to be an architect, and that I wanted to get my degree from Washington University. He looked at me somewhat incredulously and chuckled, “Washington University only takes the cream of the crop – no blacks.” Those were cruel and painful words to hear when I was 17 years old. I was determined to prove him wrong.
Nonetheless, I attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the first degree-granting historically black college in the United States. I was disappointed to learn they did not have an architecture program, so I majored in Sociology with a minor in English Literature. Even though there was no clear path, I also took electives such as calculus and technical drawing to prepare me for a future in architecture. Either through stubbornness or determination, I was going to find a way.
In 1966, Lincoln University was center stage for the Civil Rights movement: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) all came to our campus. I listened to their words and shook their hands. They were challenging the status quo: they inspired me to believe that I could achieve what I put my mind to and helped form who I was to become. Had I not attended Lincoln, I would never would have met these great men.
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