Born and raised in Harlem, New York, Mariah Williams is an urban planner, storyteller, adjunct, and researcher dedicated to highlighting the experiences of black people and spaces in cities.  Her passion is creating and exploring spaces for the being of black bodies, specifically, black women and girls, in the built environment. She is the founder of Black Girls Meet Up, a group dedicated to creating spaces for community, empowerment and self-care for black women in and outside the city of Richmond. Her work on black joy, black women, and community has been featured in Next City, Third Wave Urbanism and For Harriet.

Being a black woman and black urban planner is a salient part of Mariah’s identity. She is committed to bringing the stories of black people in cities to the forefront of the urban planning practice because she believes that there is beauty in how black people occupy spaces and ability to overcome decades of urban policies that dismantled black communities. She is also passionate about community engagement and exploring non-traditional tools to involve people throughout the planning process.

Mariah received her B.A in Sociology from the University of Richmond and her Masters of Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Mariah currently resides in Richmond, VA



Black Joy

“…As people of color, we constantly do the emotional labor of a lot of social movements. But black joy is reclaiming this idea that we could still be happy.”


What happens when you ask Black women and White women if they feel like they belong in Richmond?

“…In my focus group with Black women from the city, they mentioned there were many places where they felt included, but very few where they felt a sense of belonging, and the ones where they did were Black owned and operated.”


Cities Should Celebrate, Not Suppress, Black Joy in Public Spaces

“…It is not enough to simply label a space as public and not do the work to think intentionally about the experiences that marginalized groups will have within that space. We must leave room for the organic and free-flowing gatherings that may take place within these spaces and that represent people’s unique cultures and ways of being.”

“While these processes may make stakeholders feel uncomfortable and deal with undesired ambiguity, the process can result in a strategic plan that drives meaningful change within an organization, or in the case of urban planning, become a blueprint for a city that is vibrant and inclusive and meets the needs of all of its residents, especially those that have been marginalized.”