Welcome to my home town, my old stomping grounds, the city that raised me! Charlotte aka CharLit, home of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture.
Before we dive into the center’s exhibits I wanted to share some facts about the center.
“The Gantt Center is located in the heart of Charlotte’s central business district in the area once occupied by the historic Brooklyn neighborhood, the once-thriving center of the black community which was razed in the 1960s.”
“The Gantt Center takes design inspiration from the Myers Street School which was located in the heart of the old Brooklyn neighborhood. The biblical term Jacob’s Ladder was used to identify the school and referred to its prominent exterior stair configuration. The stairs signified pride and the importance of education in the advancement of African-Americans.”
” Stairs and escalators carry visitors up to the main second floor lobby from both ends of the building while framing the central glass atrium. The striking visual effect is a direct allusion to the original Jacob’s Ladder and perpetuates the ideals of enlightenment and advancement through education.
“The building’s skin utilizes patterns reminiscent of quilt designs from the Underground Railroad era and woven textile patterns from West Africa.”
That’s dope AF right?
Now I’ll take you inside the center.
Welcome to Brookhill
“…the photographers attempt to give a voice to those who are often rendered voiceless.”
The Welcome to Brookhill exhibit centers on gentrification and displacement taking place currently in a Charlotte neighborhood. The image activist, Alvin C. Jacobs Jr., beautifully captures the essence of the residents of the neighborhood.
When I looked at these images, I saw hard working men and women, a culture, beautiful black children wrapped in the innocence, the joy, and the adventure of childhood.
I saw a people being displaced, removed. I saw me. I saw Us. I saw an undesirable space that had now become desirable and as a result I saw a people who hung in the chasm between the present and the uncertain future.
“It’s just so sad, they want to put us back into the country so they can come to the city but what’s going to happen in four or five years when they want to move back?” – Demetrius Lockett
The exhibit also included maps, history, and information related to redlining and discriminatory practices that have been taking place for years revolving around the built environment and race.
As defined by the Harvey B. Gantt Center, Redlining is the process by which banks, insurance companies, and other entities refuse or limit loans, mortgages, and insurance in specific areas. Brookhill is an example of a geographic region who’s had its resources withheld as a result of redlining.
Question Bridge: Black Male
By use of prerecorded video as the medium, this exhibit showcased the diversity of perspective and experience of black men.
“The digital presentation initiates a transmedia conversation among black men across geographic, economic, generational, educational, and social divisions in American society and also provides a safe setting for necessary, honest expression and healing, and often unspoken, dialogue around themes that divide and unite Black males in the United States.”
In the age of social media, in the age of “cancelling people,” is anyone safe to express their true opinion? I’m glad the center thought it was important enough to give black men this platform, this space. The exhibit included very significant and controversial questions such as climbing the ladder and leaving your community behind, interracial marriage, and particularly interviewees feelings about white women. These were key discussions that we should be having freely and without judgement among ourselves.
Hank Willis Thomas: What We Ask Is Simple
In this exhibit, Hank Willils Thomas has taken photos from protest movements of the 20th century and screen printed them on retroreflective vinyl. In an almost pitch black room the viewer must use a flash and change position to see the entire image.
This was my favorite of the three exhibits, the use of retroreflective vinyl coupled with the need for flash allowed me to become the photographer. Thomas’ medium choice essentially enabled me to live these events for just a moment, to capture and freeze them forever in time, to illuminate or bring light to a dark period in American history.
Get it? Dark Room, Dark History! Camera flash acting as light shining upon and unveiling this history? FIRE!!!!!!!!
In “…a place where urban blacks were locked up in bathroom size cells to be guarded by rural whites,” imprisoned men in Attica State Prison rioted in 1971 for better conditions.
The energy of protest is captured wonderfully in the image above. Fists raised in the ultimate symbol of power for the people.
Freedom Rides in the early 1960’s were an attempt of activists to test whether the Boynton v. Virginia Supreme Court case, which outlawed segregation in interstate bus and railroad stations, would be upheld in practice and protected by civil servants. Pictured here is an evacuated Freedom Bus that had been bombed by ardent segregationists.
ALL PRAISE for the black woman! Fearless and forever not with the shit! I mean imagine, the ultimate caregiver, provider, nurturer, and lover. Now add to this list, Starer-down-of guns and armed policeman! Yes ma’am! *inserts clapping hand emojis* Thank you black women, you are UNDERAPPRECIATED!