Hometown: Denver, Colorado
Prior Degree: Bachelor of the Arts, Geography with a specialization in urban studies, 2013
Program: Master in Urban and Regional Planning, 2022
A student, an urban planner, an entrepreneur, a community organizer, a public speaker, and an artist—James Roy II doesn’t just have a passion, but rather a quest. A quest to seek justice for Black communities by using his background, education, and devotion to revolutionize the urban planning industry.
A master’s student at the CU Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning (CAP), Roy grew up in Denver’s Cole and Five Points neighborhoods in the 1990s.
“I was accustomed to hearing drive-by shootings and knew what to do when a drive-by happened: a ‘drive-by drill’,” said Roy. “Growing up, I thought that was normal.”
On his 11th birthday, he had a slumber party at his house with a few friends from other neighborhoods. During the party, a drive-by occurred. Roy got down on the ground and did a “drive-by drill,” soon noticing that none of his friends were reacting in the same way he was. His friends were pretty shaken up and ended up going home. That’s when he realized something. “This wasn’t happening in their neighborhoods.”
“It started my questioning of why and what was different. It was the beginning of how I thought about equity and neighborhoods. As I continued to grow and learn more about racial equity, I built upon what I knew,” said Roy.
At first, Roy dabbled in business coursework, but realized it was not for him. He dropped out and moved in with his mother—a philanthropist, activist, education policy expert, and a force in his life—while she was living in Washington D.C. Around that time, he started playing the video game, SimCity. After explaining the game to his mother, she pointed out that the game has some simplified elements of urban planning.
“I immediately started reading about urban planning, connecting it to the stories of my life. I started researching why neighborhoods are different, what redlining did to create a neighborhood like Five Points, and the economic fallout that ultimately created generational poverty within Black urban groups.”
It was then that he realized that he wanted to be involved in the profession and to “fix it from the standpoint of a lived experience.” Shortly after, Roy reapplied to school and graduated with a bachelor’s in urban studies from CU Denver.
“By intentional pivots within the industry, I hope to make change and restore some of the damage that has been done.”
Roy later went on to intern at Urban Land Conservancy, and after five years left to take on the master’s degree program, while at the same time venturing into consulting. After a couple of years, he went on to take the role of the Executive Director of Denver Metro Community Impact (DMCI).
Roy is finishing his masters at CU Denver and working on his thesis, which focuses on the impact of urban planning in communities of color.
After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Roy aligned urban planning to criminal justice reform, sharing the following in a post on his blog:
“The revolution of the criminal justice industry will need to produce policing that embodies the love of humanity, where no police officer would unjustly murder a man with intentionally rough tactics, no fellow police officers would aid and abet the murder, and no police officer would allow their complacency or fear to overcome their discomfort with injustice occurring in front of them. They must take responsibility for the sins of the industry with conviction and love of humanity through their job as first responders, accepting that it is the only way out of the systemic pit that we have dug our country into. This will require a deeper understanding of the communities that they have sworn themselves to and a shift out of thinking of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities as ‘the other,’ which has promoted patrolling over serving and protecting.”
“Similarly, the urban planning industry must produce planners that embody love of humanity, putting people first, rather than the built environment. While the issues are more nuanced and concealed, increasingly through time, we must take responsibility for the sins of the past that were put in place to oppress and contain BIPOC. Most planners of today are much like the officers standing aside and watching inequity wreak havoc. These are the ones that must stand up for the revolution and prevent further damage from occurring.”
He is examining the topic from an economic standpoint, both past and current, and is doing a deep dive into some Denver neighborhood’s urban planning, including Park Hill and Five Points. In the future, he hopes to create a space for the shift of the urban planning industry to serve as a means of reparations to communities of color.
A recent CBS story highlights Roy’s impact on the community, and the work being done to ensure that Denver’s neighborhoods are diverse and inclusive. Watch the interview here.
In December 2020, Roy opened an art gallery called Urbanity Gallery in Park Hill. A recent immersive exhibition “Race, Rap, Identity” by Roy and Dr. Danielle Hodge blended imagery with aspects of listening and scholarly thinking encountered through a 45-minute experience examining the words of rappers JAY-Z, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Nipsey Hussle and how each artist engages with their race and identity through their lyrics. The scholarly analysis was sourced from Hodge’s PhD dissertation and the visual art paired with it was created by Roy.
Outside of his work, Roy spends time with his children Jacob (8) and Talia (5).