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How Michael Bennett Became The Architect Of His Life And Career

Throughout his 11-year career in the NFL, Michael Bennett reached the heights of success. As a 3-time Pro Bowler and the winner of Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seattle Seahawks, he knows what it takes to push one’s mind and body past the limits that are many times self-imposed. After retiring from professional football in 2020, Bennett decided to take on another challenge—the design world. That same year, he founded a platform for his inventive ideas, the space named .

Last month in its home city of Houston, Studio Kër presented new works from Bennett, along with the late artist Imhotep Blot in an exhibition titled We Gotta Get Back to the Crib. It featured furniture, installation, and art, as well as photography by Pele-o-ali’ilagi. The work highlights Bennett’s interest in the development of an African diasporic design language that traces the discovery of history through form.

How Michael Bennett Became The Architect Of His Life And Career
Photo Credit: John Meza

“For me We Gotta Get Back to the Crib means getting back to the essence and the principles of who we are culturally,” Bennett tells ESSENCE. “Getting back to all those things that our forefathers did to put us in this position. I think sometimes you think about and you stray as an adult, you stray away, the world is iffy and you start to become of the world whether you design that world, and going back to the principles of who you are, I think, is what propels you to think differently.”

Beyond his design and architectural pursuits, Bennett is a social activist, philanthropist, and a devoted family man. His work is unique, and serves as a fusion of his life experiences. Oftentimes, Black art is “created out of trauma,” the Texas A&M graduate says. His aim is to show viewers the love in his creations, as well as the diversity within the life of people of color.

“There’s a duality to being Black,” he explains. “I think a lot of times people focus on one side of it, but I think for me, this design ethos is finding those beautiful moments and putting those into form. People are never just a form of a function or function over form. It’s that the narrative leads the form, and that to me, that’s what African diasporic language is.”

ESSENCE: At what point in your life did design become a passion for you?

Michael Bennett: I think I’ve always kind of had design in the back of my head. Watching my grandpa in Louisiana make stuff and having to makeshift a lot of different things. I think design has always kind of been a part of my life in some ways. Maybe not in the sense of what I’m making now, but I’ve always been a part of farming and fixing things and seeing my grandfather growing up. My dad was a computer technician, my mom was a teacher. So, I guess creativity has always been a part of my life since I was a young child.

Why do you think design became a primary focus after your football career as opposed to some other craft?

I think it’s one of those things where it’s like—there’s a lot of opportunities when you retire from football. And I think for me, I’ve always been political, standing up for what’s right, protesting police brutality, prison system reform, bail reforms, and working globally on just the injustices that come with being Black.

I think if I look at it now, I think of design as being another disruption, redesigning the world that you want to see, right? I always think that the ghetto is not a natural design, so therefore it could be redesigned. So thinking about design as being a part of every factor of our life, if you look back at the turn of the century after slavery, we designed everything. We were part of every design ethos of America.

We think about Black people in America, we were the rebar, the thing that’s unseen, but the thing that keeps the foundation stable. So, I think design has always been a disruptive part of our life and a disruptive part of systems. So, creating new frameworks and thinking about it in the way of systems is kind of where I move towards, it’s just less on paper and more into the physical realm.

How Michael Bennett Became The Architect Of His Life And Career
Photo Credit: John Meza

You’ve previously described yourself as a spatial designer. Can you explain to me what a spatial designer is and what pulled you toward that particular practice?

I do a lot of different types of design, right, and I think it’s so much about designing and different levels and scales of space. For my practice, I’m focused on communicating these African diaspora forms and languages through different scales of space, whether it be furniture design, whether it be installation, whether it be architecture, whether it be designing a faucet. So it’s just about how we interact with space and that’s kind of how I think about design.

What inspired the creation of Studio Kër?

It was when I retired, I spent a lot of time in Senegal, and then coming back I was like, “What would be the name of the studio?” And the process of thinking about the current world’s office is a person’s home. And I think when I think about great design, I think about home. How does something make you relate back to the most beautiful moment, and use that as a design?

In your life right now—mentally, spiritually, physically—do you think Michael Bennett has gotten back to the crib yet?

I think getting back to the crib is a constant evolution, a constant stride to keep thinking. To get back into the essence, I think, no pun intended, but I think it’s definitely just, I feel like I am getting back to the crib and getting back to the essence of remembering purpose and the divinity that comes with that idea of what purpose is. I think a lot of times we fall short when we forget and we just become hard. The world is super hard, but I think I’m definitely getting back to the crib in the sense of getting back to the fundamental principles that kind of got me to where I am now.

I think what you’ve done in terms of your commitment to humanity and social justice and activism, that’s one of the dopest parts about you. What was it or who was it that instilled that type of passion and commitment in you to dedicate yourself to social activism and things like that?

I think it was everybody in my family. I think everybody played a role. If you think about it, it takes a village to raise a child. When I look back in my own life, I think there were moments where my mother, who was a teacher, always was working in the community and doing stuff for school. My dad was a football coach, not in the sense of for school, but he coached little league teams to help us out. And he became a father to different people in the neighborhood, giving them the game.

And I think going back to Louisiana, the foundation of spirituality played a role looking at different people in my family and people being cornerstones of the community whether that was my uncle Reggie or my grandpa, or my mother. If I was just to look at somebody who didn’t even know they inspired me as a child probably would be like Angela Davis or Booker T. Washington or something like that. These people that I read about as a child inspired me about the idea of what Blackness is and how we are everything that we want to be.

In terms of design, those people played a big role in general. And also my brother and my wife, there’s different people in my life that have in their own way have sparked activism through their own lens, and they’ve made me think deeper about humanity. At the end of the day, I think as humans we’re constantly dealing with morality, that morality between animalistic and human.

And very rarely we are more on the animal side, I think we are all on the moral side. And so it’s a fight to keep that morality and keep that what makes us human alive. And I think when I look at the world and I think about the experience of the Black man and Black woman globally, which I spent time in Haiti, I spent time in Africa, I spend time all over the world, and I see the consistent hardships and it makes me think about how do we move forward? And I think a lot of times it’s about thinking about becoming a subculture within a culture and continuing to create.

How Michael Bennett Became The Architect Of His Life And Career
Photo Credit: John Meza

Hearing what you’re saying, the things that you’ve done in your career outside of your career, you being a family man and you speaking so highly about your family, people that inspired you. If you could choose, what would you want your legacy to be years after you’ve left this earth?

I think at the core of it all, I think there’s two legacies, right? And I think that’s what people struggle with. The duality of those two legacies. When you think about legacy, I think it’s two ways because sometimes people are great outside of their family, but then they’re horrible husbands and horrible fathers. I want to build a bond with my family and my daughter, and to continuously be a great father and support them. And with my wife, I want to be a husband who stands on side of her, not in front of her, and really build with her.

That’s a legacy of how you interact with your family. Being something that my family will remember me for in those moments that are happening every day. And that part of legacy is important, building that core foundation with my immediate family and also my larger family dynamic.

When I think about legacy in the global aspect, it’s to continue to develop space and continue to make things and leave these living repositories that become a part of our history and thinking about secular space, thinking about schools, thinking about creating and making, and not just being. Just giving. I think that’s hard. I think that’s what it comes down to is just creating something that continues to live on.

Going back to your family and the things that you’re trying to leave behind and your passions, your interests, and your other endeavors, how do you maintain a healthy balance between each?

That’s the hardest thing. I think I’m still working on that. I think for me, I am always trying to be present and looking back. And I think when you want to make an impact, that’s when that balance between family becomes difficult, because you start to do so much.

And one of my coaches used to always say, “You see a lot, you see a little. You see a little, you see a lot.” Back then I was like, “That’s some dumb*** s**t.” But later on it made sense. If you try to see everything, you can’t see anything. He was like, “But we have that vision, you see a lot because you can see the thing through and it could become more.” I think for me, when I think about each individual thing, I try to split up my day into these different ideas and try to have everything, try to have one idea, but expressing it through different mediums is where I try to find that solace.

The best thing to do is to continue to keep a schedule. I think being in the NFL, you learn discipline. And so trying to become a disciplined, creative person, a disciplined father, is a constant struggle.How Michael Bennett Became The Architect Of His Life And Career