It was a hard message on the wall of the SWC Art Gallery, but a message we need to talk about.
“In tribute of the 102 unarmed black people who were killed by the police in 2015.”
I understood these words’ meaning, but struggled to accept them. Not because I questioned their validity, but because I recognized their truth.
Dr. Rachel N. Hastings, curator of “The Dialogue,” a Black History Month event, said the main focus of the interactive exhibit was to advocate for human connection through reflection of the status of black men in America.
“When it comes to advocating you’re really becoming an ally of that group you’re aligning yourself with,” she said. “It’s more then ‘I’m going to pick up a sign and demonstrate.’ Advocating is activating ideas so that we can see the type of change implemented all the way through.”
Hastings, an assistant professor of communications, challenged students to create a form of expression, to engage viewers, and gather their different experiences into the conversation of racism and social injustice in America.
“It’s not just about one particular point of view,” she said. “We just use black men has the catalyst to open up dialogue across different forms.”
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram hashtags are provided throughout the gallery to give viewers an opportunity to engage in the dialogue.
Dialogue’s #dontforget challenge, encourages viewers to remember the lives of black men and share a positive memory of them.
Entering the gallery is like walking into a cemetery. Names such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin are inscribed in black marker upon gray headstones made of cardboard. Food cans are tucked with red and yellow paper flowers accompanying the headstones resting on green artificial turf.
I walked down the alley of graves leading to a mirror on a large wall festooned with white crucifixes, flowers and names and dates of black people killed by police.
Looking at my reflection in the mirror the message became clear, I could be one of these names among this wall, among these graves, another life lost to violence and prejudice. Hastings said that was one of the points the exhibit wanted to make.
“When you walk in here and see the names of the black men who have fallen at the hands of the police, also remember that for everyone there is another who is still here, “ Hastings said. “Men who are not the stereotype of the absent father or criminal.”
Walls blossomed with poetry and pictures of SWC students of color, as well as artwork and photography by Ronald Williams, David Hodges and Charles Goodman III. These same gallery walls are lined with black prison bars, imprisoning the beauty, which exists behind them.
These bars represented a feeling I carry with me everyday, the feeling of being a beautifully flawed human being who at times feels more like a monster because of the perception of people towards my color. No matter how many degrees I receive or how much success I achieve, I will always be a black man, and therefore subject to a perception that has plagued my people for 500 years.
In 2016 we are still communicating the same frustrations, asking America to listen. Being black in America is like screaming help in a room full of people pretending they cannot hear you.
Hope ensues. “The Dialogue” is already spurring discussion, Hastings said.
“People are talking about the prison crisis, people are talking about incarcerated women and the ways in which they are still being shackled when they have children in prison.”
Students contributed by sharing their thoughts on two large chalkboards. Some were philosophical. “I am more than what you see…I am a melting pot of races,” read one. All comments had a core theme, captured with two big bold words, “One Love.”
America often pretends as if racism and social injustice are not real for the sake of comfort. We do not talk about these problems for the sake of comfort.
A timeless message by Dr. Martin Luther King illuminated the exhibit.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”