People, Perspective

Dream Big, Design Big, Speak Up: Encouraging New and Diverse Voices in the Lighting Industry

Black History Month - Lighting Design Diversity

About Danielle Samuel

Danielle Samuel joined CM KLING + ASSOCIATES in February 2021 as a Junior Lighting Designer. Danielle is a Caribbean- American (Trinidad & St.Vincent) Brooklyn native. She is an architectural designer with an interest in urban design and urban policies for social justice. Danielle started her career in architecture and is now exploring the world of architectural lighting. She has always had an interest in design, and when her mentor pointed her in the direction of interior design, she gladly walked towards it.

Designing for social change is extremely important to Danielle which is why she chose Temple University for her Master of Architecture. She used the landscape of North Philadelphia and knowledge of her hometown to educate and inform others of the dangers of gentrification.

Outside of architecture and lighting, Danielle serves as a board member for the Brooklyn-based non-profit organization “The Dinnertable Doc” the purpose of which is to uplift and support young girls of color in their efforts to go to college, and eventually to start their careers.

As part of our Black History Month profile series, we asked Danielle about the biggest influences in her life and career, her advice for professionals of color in the lighting industry, the role industry events like LightFair play in encouraging representation and diversity and more.

How long have you been in the lighting industry? How did you get started?

I have been in the lighting industry since 2019. My interest in lighting started when I took an interior design course while studying architecture as an undergrad. The professor of the course signed the class up to do a Phillips lighting certification course. We did a quick intro to the basics of lighting, and I remember thinking I can’t wait to be certified and design lighting aspects of the architecture, not knowing it was its own niche career.

After being a little frustrated at a previous job I decided to apply on a whim to HDLC in NYC, and they called me in and it was kismet.

A lesson you’ve learned that you would pass along for the benefit of others

A lesson I learned early in my career was to speak up. Closed mouths do not get fed, and if you are not being a spokesperson for yourself no one else will. The worse possible answer is no, and that’s easy to recover from so do not be afraid.

What are some factors that influenced your professional path?

Many factors have brought me to this point in life. Most important of all has been my intuition and heart. I follow my heart in every decision, and I believe God has navigated every step and has placed these opportunities in my life.

What stands out in your experience as a black professional in the lighting industry? What challenges, if any, did you face?

Being a black designer in the architecture/lighting industry can be very lonely sometimes because you rarely see someone that looks like you in the room.

However, I have been blessed to work with people who are not only respectful to me but are also caring and empathetic to the black experience. This doesn’t make up for how lonely it can be, but it helps to not have to work in hostile places.

I do not think there is a black professional that hasn’t experienced challenges solely because they were black. It can be very tricky to navigate challenges because I am never certain if it is because I am black or if it is because I am a woman. When facing challenges as a black woman, it is always imperative to look at how my impact can affect not just me, but those that will come after me. I think of those who came before me, and how they persevered despite the evils fighting against them. That empowers me to keep pushing because I know they did and that means I can too

Your thoughts on representation in the lighting industry, any positive changes you have noticed and areas needing work

I am still new to the lighting industry and thanks to the pandemic, meeting people in the industry is not as easy as it used to be. I cannot speak to the changes, but from what I have seen there are not a lot of people like me.  We should work to make that change.

The lighting industry would benefit greatly from new and diverse voices.

A project or building that you admire by a black designer or architect

The Health Science and Research building on the Princess Nora Abdulrahman University for Women by Allison Grace Williams

Have you attended LightFair? If yes, what was your experience like?

I attended my first LightFair in 2021 in NYC. I loved being there and meeting reps and other people working in our industry. I am new to the industry, so I get excited at any chance to learn about new fixtures and meet new people.

What role do you think events like LightFair can play in encouraging diversity and representation in the lighting industry?

Lightfair and other industry events can play a major role in encouraging diversity and representation in the lighting industry. This is the showcase for all aspects of light and can be a great stepping stone for change. The showcase brings in so many lighting professionals from across the country. Hosting local college students, high school students in Lightfair activities, creating ways for these professionals to not only meet other professionals but meet future leaders.

Exposure to the lighting industry can bring diversity, and the best way to start is by introducing young minds to lighting.

Favorite inspirational quote and role model

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations” – Dr. Mae Jemison

As for role models, Bell Hooks to me is one of the greatest visionaries of our time and has given me so much grounding knowledge as a young black woman.

Advice for young black lighting professionals

My advice to young black designers is to dream big, design big, and live big.

This world can be so limiting to the point where it is hard for us to see what we can be. Push against your inner thoughts and go after what you want every single time. Chase after your dreams and when you make it do not forget the generations coming up after you; mentorship is key. 

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