Q&A: Yathrib Ragsdale

This year, AIGA DC’s Design Continuum Fund awarded its annual scholarship to Yathrib “BeBe” Ragsdale of Woodbridge, Virginia, who attends George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. This Q&A builds on themes she discussed in her application essay, and clearly illustrates why she was an obvious choice.

What inspires your design work?

My battle with cancer and return to health motivates me to never quit.

I was at work three years ago, sitting in my 6×6-work cubicle, when I got a call saying I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer—at 28. I sat there for a moment, holding back tears as I quietly packed up my things and left the office. I can still hear the sound of my own wails and sobs after making it to my car. I was so overcome with grief. The only coherent thought in my mind was “I just want to live.”

Further testing confirmed multiple cancerous areas inside the breast and outside of the breast, leaving me with one option. On January 24, 2012, I underwent a full mastectomy of the right breast and over the next nine months, I endured six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by 33 sessions of radiation therapy. I’m proud to call myself a cancer survivor.

During this unimaginable time, I channeled my myriad of emotions into my art. I chronicled my journey to health and recovery in a six-part design series that delved into the psyche of a cancer patient, exposing my raw emotions of sorrow, heartache, inner-strength, and survival. A complementary piece is my self-portrait. It dispels the conventional notion of beauty portraying my asymmetric, post-mastectomy body and exposes the viewer to the source of my emotions. My art was instrumental to my recovery and self-acceptance, and I believe my art can be a source of empowerment for other minority women battling cancer. I want to inspire them to use their creativity to alleviate their mental anguish as they battle their demons, embrace diversity, and reinforce their self-esteem and self-worth.

What was your response when you heard you got the scholarship?

I was in complete disbelief when I found out I’d been awarded the scholarship. I knew I had a compelling story, but didn’t realize how much it would resonate with others. I felt a sense of honor and gratitude upon hearing the news.

How has your family supported your design endeavors?

My husband, family, and loved ones have been my cheerleaders along the way. They’ve supported and encouraged my efforts my entire academic and professional career. My father was apprehensive when I first told him I was interested in art and design, but today I’ve proven to him that determination breeds success.

Do you have a favorite designer?

I don’t have one single favorite designer, but I’m also inspired by women in design. Jessica Hische, Paula Scher, Jessica Walsh, and Louise Fili to name a few.

What’s next after school?

After school I hope to find a teaching position at a local university or design school. Ultimately, I want to enrich the lives of others through design and education. I think my unique life experiences and cultural background will help me to encourage students to step outside of the known and develop designs that test boundaries and invoke change. I hope to pull from my experiences as an EIP mentor, and touch the lives of future designers, and helping them harness their creativity. I’ve already enrolled as an AIGA-GMU Go! Mentor for undergraduate graphic design students, so I don’t have to wait until I’m a professor to nurture and support the creative potential in others.

Want to help the next Continuum Scholarship recipient for 2015? Make a donation to the cause or learn more here.

Published November 6, 2014