Welcome to the 2023 version of Western Carolina University’s “The Black Fantastic.” Last year, the University Communications and Marketing team created “The Black Fantastic” to highlight excellence among a few of WCU’s Black faculty and staff members. The project went on to win three platinum awards from the Hermes Creative Awards, an international competition that is one of the oldest and largest creative competitions in the world. During Black History Month, we continue that artistic and creative look at some of the people responsible for shaping and mentoring the great minds of the future.
Johnnifer Patrice Brown, named after her late father, John L. Brown, spent her childhood watching her father master the art of upholstery in Montgomery, Alabama.
Completing her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tuskegee University and time spent working in both the automotive and commercial design industry, Brown soon realized she was unfulfilled and needed a change.
“Eclectic is how I would describe myself,” said Brown, an assistant professor of interior design at Western Carolina University. “I love textures. When I see it, I feel nostalgic.”
Inspired from her father’s artistry and her family’s dedication to education and service, Brown had a calling to capture her father’s spirit. While receiving an associate degree in interior design in Atlanta, her instructors saw she had a natural and gifted ability to educate. With their encouragement and support, Brown reached for and completed her master’s in fine art with a focus on teaching interior design from Brenau University.
After a short time in Oregon working in higher education, and during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Brown wanted to be closer to home. Leaning on her Christian faith, she began the search for new employment and attended a conference in Alabama where she was quickly and persistently recruited by WCU interior design faculty members Jane Hughes and Shelby Hicks.
Unsettled with the idea of moving to rural Western North Carolina, a place she knew nothing about, especially during the pandemic and during the aftermath of the “Black Lives Matter Movement,” Brown took a leap of faith.
“I realize now that I needed them as much as they needed me,” Brown said. “We are close. I’m now a part of what we endearingly call ‘The Tribe.’”
Brown is grateful for the opportunity that WCU has afforded her in doing scholarly work and elevating the young and curious minds of her students.
“I’m trying to teach them to dig deep, to learn and grow as I continue to do. I want them to look at interior design as a form of storytelling, a place where education and culture can blend to form a personalized and creative experience for designer and client,” Brown said.