ROOT CAUSE RESEARCH CENTER JESSICA BELLAMY DESIGN, LOUISVILLE KY
Internationally recognized data storyteller, experience designer, and data rights advocate, Jessica Bellamy, decolonizes information design, learning experience design, research, and editorial animation in her work. She is an exacting and spiritually whole human, who loves fishing and making things. As a co-founder of the Root Cause Research Center (RCRC), she works alongside and trains tenants to investigate and build collective power around their community concerns. RCRC equips tenant-led movements with visual and interactive data resources, as well as grassroots organizing and research capacity.
RCRC is currently providing tenant campaigns support in six different counties in Kentucky, and one in Tennessee. RCRC has launched two training series since its founding: 1) the Community Research Incubator & Expo; and 2) the KY Tenants organizing training series. Together, staff and tenants have produced multiple story maps, reports, infographics, editorial videos, and blog posts connecting tenant struggles with data, to clearly identify root causes, powerholders, and points of intervention within housing systems. In addition to supporting tenant campaigns, RCRC also takes on projects involving radical and liberatory scholarship, planning, and design. Earlier this year, RCRC produced a technician, heuristic and equitable strategic plan for the Texas Freedom Colonies Project 3.0 – a social justice initiative happening through Texas A&M University.
How did you become involved in socially responsible communications and why do you believe design can be an effective tool for this goal?
For nearly a decade now I’ve been my own boss and have primarily produced work for resident-led campaigns and charitable organizations. My role within class struggle has been to help create access to complex information. I think of creative ways to break things down for a living. To do so, I use visuals and experimental ways of learning. Outside of my experience and skills with information design as a craft, I’ve grown a rigorous and rich practice which includes, but is not limited to being intentional with the structure of my collaborations; being an active participant in living accountability systems with people; being consistent in taking regular and honest inventories of power dynamics, and so on.
Over the years, my work has equipped others to push back against racist and classist policies and practices that displace and dispossess people of their homes. I deeply believe in organizing as a theory of change to address the concerns of poor and workingclass people. Grassroots organizing is the collectivization of individual struggles to strengthen the collective political power of the group. No one will champion our problems with as much accuracy and urgency as we can, so we need tools and resources that help us all get on the same page on what’s happened and what is possible.
Given the confluence of events and challenges our society now faces, does 2021 present any special opportunities, urgencies, obstacles to designing for good?
There are several new obstacles, some intensified urgencies, and a few new opportunities. Logistically meeting with others can be difficult considering the CDC guidelines and the digital divide. Furthermore, so many people are dealing with compounding crises — job loss, housing, sickness, or death of a loved one – and others are still experiencing state sanctioned violence from police. During the pandemic and national Uprising for Racial Justice, we’ve seen a lot of suffering as well as a growth of collective rage and urgency. This combination has made the problems clear but organizing difficult. As new opportunities open up that validate grassroots organizing as a theory of change, this problem is incrementally being addressed on an individual level, which is something but not near enough, and it does not address root causes.