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Monica Fenderson

Monica is the Founder and President of MOSA Design Studios LLC, which was founded in 2009 and is located in Grayson, Georgia. Before working with working for herself she was a Building Plans Examiner with Gwinnett County for 11 years. Monica also worked with renowned architecture firms on many multimillion dollar projects such as the Atlanta City Courts, Atlanta Public Schools Office and Dekalb County Juvenile Courts, Flight safety Atlanta and many airport projects throughout the nation.

I met Monica at a networking event. I had driven across town in rush hour traffic to find myself in a semi-dark room with a bunch of people whom I didn't know. About 20 minutes in, I was thinking about leaving, and I could tell that Monica was too, but after I got up and gave my spiel, she looked me dead in the eye and asked if I had a business card. She was genuine, something I cannot always say. She had that whole quiet, confident, "I know who I am and whose I am,” swag going on. She was, for me, a kindred spirit (what I want someone to say about me one day), and when I tell you, she was humble.


When it was her time to get up in front of everyone, I learned that she was an architect. I was thinking wow! I could tell that she and the other women who were there had a close association. They were all very impressive in their own right, but Monica made a beeline straight for my heart when she talked about helping people, about educating people, schooling our people about code regulations, and code violations...our people.


For another thing, she was humble. Oh...I said that. This bears repeating. I find it refreshing because believe it or not, I get tired of all the (and I will admit that they are) amazing women that I meet who find it necessary to tell everyone just how amazing they are. Monica seemed to embody something my mother used to say, "Don't tell me how wonderful you are. Let me tell you." My mother was pretty smart, but let me tell you because she probably won't, Monica is simply phenomenal! 


Monica follows in the footsteps of Norma Merrick Sklarek, often called the “Rosa Parks of architecture." Sklarek  was one of the first African-American women to earn an architect license in the United States, but as an African American female, Monica is one of a very small number of African American female architects in the US. In fact, African American female architects make up less than one-half percent of the total in the US. That is right, according to a February 2017, article on Curbed.com, “African Americans made up 13 percent of the total U.S. population at the last census, [but] only 2 percent of the licensed architects in the U.S. are African American, according to the National Association of Minority Architects (NOMA).”


Roughly, 0.3 percent of that 2 percent are African American females. That is pretty amazing, but I would not expect less because Monica is also a woman of God. A day or two after the networking event, I sent the My Girlfriendz Place interview questionnaire to all the women I had met that night. They all responded and let me know that they would be
happy to comply, but Monica called me. "Let's meet", she said. We met for dinner and she told me the amazing story of her childhood. She says without hesitation that her mother is her hero, but she also knows, with certainty, who she is, and whose she is.


Born in Brooklyn, the youngest of five, Monica calls herself a miracle baby. Her mother hails from Costa Rica, and her father from Panama where he had nine other children. She talks about how her parents were never together, and her mother moved to New York, sent for her other children, and always worked hard to take care of hers. She honors her mother, who she said had nothing, but was everything for her children. She was the hard work, the dedication, the courage.

Despite her mother's best intentions, and as often is the case no matter how involved and engaged some parents are, Monica's family was not immune to the dangers of crack cocaine. She freely acknowledges the drama and some of the sordid experiences that come with that life, and, she says, & that's why I live as simply as I can. I have seen it, I know drama & quote; but she has not let it color her now, and I know, without really knowing her, that she's never used it as an excuse not to excel.


The family moved to Long Island when Monica was about seven. Some of her siblings weren't happy about the move, but it was necessary, maybe even destiny, for Monica. Shy and quiet, but with a keen intellect, Monica excelled. She grew up in a time when crack was devastating our communities, but she stayed active. She played basketball, ran track, sang, and played the violin. Despite what was going on around her, Monica was determined. She names people like Bill Cosby and the whole glimpse into something more than The Cosby Show provided for African-American youth, David Dinkins, the first and only African-American (to date) Mayor of New York, and then there was her basketball coach/math professor, who encouraged her to apply to Tuskegee (his alma mater).

 
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Monica applied to and received acceptance letters from several schools, Morgan State, NC AT&T, and of course, Tuskegee. She chuckles in a self deprecating manner as she tells me that she knew Howard wasn't for her. "I know myself", she says, and I could see the fun-loving side of her in the grin she gave me. She tells me how she and her mom traveled to Alabama on a train. When she got there, a nice grandmotherly or Aunty like woman, just a sweetheart, told her that they didn't have Architectural Engineering, but they had an Architect program. She told Monica to & "Just try it, baby," and of course, she did.


She had never been South, and so the girl who was so confident, the girl from New York, who knew no fear, was suddenly depressed. She says it took her a minute to adjust, but eventually, she began to love architecture. The passion, in her voice...the light in her eyes as she explained that architecture, for her, is solving problems, putting things together, things that intrigued her things like people living in the projects. Why? She told me that she loves it and the love will never leave (how many of us can say that?) "People don't get it. You get to explore things you may have never thought about. There's a creativity involved and a new way of looking at the rules."


Monica finished her program. She was one of 10, out of 100 who had started with her, to finish the program. She met her husband at Tuskegee, and they are the proud parents of a 17-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. I am going to finish by telling you how Monica describes her desire to teach others to fish, and how she is doing great and marvelous things, but you are probably thinking that this is too good to be true...Now, would I lie? Of course not. So, before I tell you all the great things that Monica has done and is doing, I need you to understand who and what grounds her.


I asked Monica about her faith you know, her relationship with God. Like a true daughter of the King, and not just a church-goer who has no real relationship, Monica tells me how she got saved at around seven. For those of you who don't know what that means, she accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior at a young age. She credits her Cousin Louise who was like a grandmother to her with instilling that faith in her. "She would have me in church day and night," She chuckles, but she also explains why she calls herself a miracle. She tells me that a lot of crazy things happened to her as she was growing up. She remembers falling out of a moving car, in a snow-white dress and landing in a puddle of mud. "When I got up, she says, "There was not a spot of mud on me!"

 
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She believes with all her heart that she has an assignment. "It is not about me," she says. "It is not about money." I can hear the amazement in her voice as she shared with me about a current project on which she was working. Cynthia Bailey, Real Housewives of Atlanta, had called her in to collaborate on a project. She was excited to be featured as the architect (which meant a photoshoot), and thank God for girlfriendz. I could tell that she’s not vain, but anyone can tell, just by looking, that she is beautiful, like she kind of likes the attention, but is not desperate for it…doesn’t need it to feel complete. Her girlz came through helping with hair, makeup, and mommy duties. Monica walked in slaying, and they were like, "Oh my God! You're the architect?" Score one for the sistas ya'll! I think that they thought the architect has to be white, right? Wrong!


I could tell that even after telling me such a great story, Monica was not overly impressed with the star studded attention. If you ask me (and even if you don't), I would say that she deserves all that, and more, but I told you she was humble, right? She's back to telling me that she worries about the community. "We have an obligation," she says. "To help one another. Trump is actually forcing us to wake up. I want to teach people to fish."


It is the gleam in her eye again that tells me that she is serious. She talks about her mother being her inspiration. She talks about the things we, as Black people, need to know. She expresses her awe at having designed churches and other buildings and the sense of pride she gets from knowing that she had a hand in helping someone to succeed, in helping someone create jobs. She tells me that she is actively pursuing her life's purpose, but she has to do more.


Challenges? Of course. We talked about how few African-American female architects there are, and so it comes as no surprise that being an Alpha intelligent, confident, competent, beautiful, Godly female in a male-dominated field, is probably not a walk in the park. "Honestly," Monica says, "When you believe that what God has for you, is for you, you just know...no matter what comes at you, no matter what, I am going to get through it." As we left the restaurant, I just had to hug my new girlfriend and while you can’t get a hug from the words you are reading, I will leave you with these words of wisdom from one of His brightest lights, "Follow God, live your life, be you, bring yourself to your profession."


Do you need an architect? You’ve come to the right place!


Follow Monica @mosarchitect on IG