Jade cares deeply about social justice, and has made it the center of her career. She is a public access design fellow at the Center of Urban Pedagogy, a nonprofit organization that uses the power of design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement in New York City. But she’s also a graphic designer at Uncommon Goods, a B Corporation that offers handmade goods with a focus on positively impacting people and the planet.
“There’s a point with social design where I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders,” Jade said, “so it’s kind of nice to just kick back and design for fun at times, but then also have this outlet (with the Center of Urban Pedagogy) where I can say, ‘I’m really interested in the problems going on in the world; please allow me to use my knowledge from graduate school.’ It’s a great balance for me, and it keeps me chill.”
Every day, Jade is running through new ideas to find the best fit for whichever job she’s focused on. Before coming to DSI, though, the West Virginia University graphic design graduate said she was a one-trick pony.
“I would have one good idea think, ‘We’re gonna make this work,’” she said. “And now I’m able to come up with fifty or a hundred ideas before I settle on one or two. And I definitely credit that to the program for making me not only a collaborative designer, but also a bigger thinker.”
Jade said the program pushes students through an intense idea-generation process that includes iteration, reframing and analysis. “You might start somewhere and end up in a completely different place,” she explained.
That was definitely true for Jade’s thesis project, Time In, a superhero-themed yoga program for black male elementary students who have been suspended and show signs of repeated problematic behavior that make it likely they’ll be suspended again.
It wasn’t what she wanted to work on when she applied to DSI. Instead, Jade wrote in her application that she planned on focusing her thesis on colorism, or bias based on skin tone. In the black community, Jade said that sometimes lighter-skinned people are seen as more beautiful, and she wanted to look at how colorism affected young girls’ perception of beauty.
When she started her research, she realized that colorism has much more drastic affects: It can become systematic oppression, especially for young black boys.
“Black men, especially darker-skinned African-American men, at four and five years old are more likely to get suspended from school or to get in trouble at school than any other skin tone within any other demographic,” she said.
Jade’s thesis allowed her to understand how suspensions at a very young age can impact men as they grow through life — showing correlations with dropping out of school and getting arrested.
“It’s a vicious, vicious cycle that doesn’t allow for much progression,” she said.
To counteract this problem, Jade created a classroom program that allows boys to see themselves as superheroes through a set of yoga poses. Yoga strengthens the boys’ bodies and minds, she said, and helps with relaxation and self-confidence.
The program she created is still in place in her hometown in New Jersey. And Jade is still working with marginalized groups to create social good campaigns through her work with the Center of Urban Pedagogy.
Now, she’s focused on a project with the Justice Coalition of New York.
“I’m really excited that it’s working with underrepresented communities and minority communities, and their relationship with the police, which is obviously a huge, high-profile problem right now,” Jade said.
For those applying to DSI, she recommends candidates be open to working on teams and learning from their cohort.
“I came to DSI like a lone wolf,” she said. “I was comfortable with working with other people, but felt more efficient when I was working by myself. That’s the great thing about social design: You need other people to collaborate.”
As for the rigor of the program, Jade says that from the website, it looks easy, but the work is much more challenging.
“It was a whole lot more than I expected,” she said.