Quardean Lewis-Allen, a life-long Brownsville resident and class of 2005 alum of Medgar Evers Preparatory School, earned a B.S in Architecture from SUNY at Buffalo and a Master of Architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He founded Made in Brownsville, a creative agency, to combat the high levels of unemployment and lack of education of young people in his neighborhood. Most recently, Quardean was featured as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs Class of 2017.
Quardean grew up with his mom, three uncles, siblings and grandma in Brownsville, Brooklyn while attending public schools. At the age of eight, Quardean lost one of his uncles to gun violence. As a result of his uncle’s death, Quardean feared public spaces and turned to drawing to express himself.
At Essence Middle School in East New York, he felt supported by teachers who knew his potential. “Looking back, no one at my middle school told me ‘no’. People told me I would get into Harvard one day and I would just laugh at them. They saw success in me before I could see it within myself.”
His favorite teacher in middle school was Mr. Burns because he could relate to him and felt like he was misunderstood, just like himself. “He was genuinely compassionate about teaching students. He knew there were challenges beyond the classroom, but he tried to go a pace that would support the entire class. He wanted everyone to succeed.”
Though he knew he wanted to give back to the community that raised him, Quardean initially studied architecture because he wanted to help redesign the buildings and landscape of his community, in the hopes that it would change people’s interactions. But he later decided to found Made in Brownsville, a creative agency, to create a space that didn’t exist when he was younger for people who look like him– in particular, a space for young people from Brownsville.
The agency brings mentors working in creative fields in New York City to train young people ages 14 to 24. Through 12-week apprenticeships, they’re taught skills in science, technology, math, art or design.
His advice for younger public school students hoping to follow in his footsteps? “You have to have a plan to challenge the people who already have a plan for you. Plant the seeds now for where you want to be.” Quardean is currently the CEO of Made in Brownsville, and an adjunct professor of architecture at the City College of New York where he’s the only black male professor of color in the department.