Jah Elyse Sayers joined the Design Trust in June 2016 as our inaugural Equitable Public Space Fellow – after two years in grant-writing and book-editing at New Village Press, the publishing division of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility. At the Design Trust, they worked to center equity and meaningful engagement in the many facets of the organization’s work.
They hold a B.A. in Urban Studies, specializing in Anthropology with a strong focus in Architecture, from Columbia University. Their undergraduate thesis focused on spatial contestation between residential and non-residential members of communities, specifically examining use of Greenwich Village public space by queer and transgender youth of color and the ways gay-identified spaces in the neighborhood often exclude the most vulnerable of queer-identified people.
They are also an alumnus of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research’s Narrating Population Health: Oral History, Disparity, and Social Change, and have participated in urban systems research, ethnographic filmmaking, and inclusive and affirming community building. Most recently, they conducted rigorous oral history interviews with author Carl C. Anthony in order to complete The Earth, the City, and the Hidden Narrative of Race (2017), for New Village Press.
Jah takes special interest in studying unintended and non-explicit relationships between rigidly designed systems and dynamic human uses. They have been exploring the ways that groups and individuals subvert authoritative intentions, and infuse seemingly immutable structures with new meaning. They seek to prioritize the participation of those most thoroughly dependent on the publicness of public space and, above all, believes in the power of a good question.
Jah now serves on the board of New Village Press. They are also an active member of the Audre Lorde Project.
Jah is formerly known as Jourdan Sayers.