A Three-Part Conversation About Being A Black Artist In The City Too Busy To Hate
“Closed mouths don’t get fed and squeaky wheels get the oil,” I grew up hearing those adages often by respected leaders within my community. There is a great deal of responsibility, risks, criticism and penalties that come with being vocal about what is happening within any of our Black communities. It is twice as challenging when you are not just vocal about what needs to be done, you are actually doing the work also. Being someone who will back your words up with strong actions, regardless of what comes your way is a heavy cross to bear and a deadly sword to fall on.
Over the years, I have made a number of allies and enemies simply because I refuse to quietly sit in the shadows watching our amazing Black Artists go without what we need to survive and thrive in Atlanta. Donations and tax funds have been collected on our behalf for decades, yet with each passing year in Atlanta I have witnessed the painful drain of our Black community of Creatives.
Here I am, nearly three decades later as an independent Art professional and I have accomplished so many things in spite of all of these challenges. I still believe in our Artists and with the proper partnerships in place we will be able to save Atlanta’s Black Arts market. This is bigger than anyone’s individual egos.
I created this video series
, as a means to initiate some real conversations, which will be followed by some real actions. Please review the video below and I look forward to hearing from you.
Please keep in mind that our Artists are in need of opportunities and not just hope.
Executive Creative Director
Executive Creative Director
When a Walk Is No Longer Just a Walk
After Ahmaud Arbery’s death, even stepping out the front door for a walk provokes a protracted mental checklist of how to stay safe in my own neighborhood.
MAY 11, 2020
The evening I found out Ahmaud Arbery was killed, I fried whiting fish in the air fryer, and I can’t lie, it was damn good. So good that I had to have two Hawaiian sweet dinner rolls to complement the meal along with the broccoli and cauliflower. Afterwards, I felt I might have overdone it a bit so I decided I’d take a walk. By this time, it’s 9 p.m.
I walked to my front door, and told my fiancée that I’d be back soon. She said OK, with a tinge of trepidation — just enough to snap me back into reality. I was reminded that I live in America, in a nice neighborhood, and that I am a large negro. My mind flooded with scenarios of everything that could go wrong on my walk, based on everything that had gone wrong for others like me. Others whose nights I imagine began as innocently as my own.
Just when I thought that I had become desensitized to racial violence, the
death of Arbery
had struck me to my core. Arbery, 25, was shot twice while out for a jog by Travis McMichael, who with father Gregory, chased Arbery in a pickup truck. Gregory told the police that he thought he looked like a man suspected in neighborhood break-ins. There was no way for me to rationalize in the slightest why he was murdered. Arbery’s killing, which happened while he was doing something so seemingly routine — jogging — had me unwittingly fearful of exercising one of the most basic of human rights, the right to simply exist.
While I absolutely have routines that I run through as a black man — i.e. my “police protocol,” my “workforce protocol,” etc. — prior to what happened with Arbery, I did not run through a checklist for something as benign as taking a walk in my neighborhood.
Still, on this particular evening, I grabbed my photo ID and my credit card, just in case. But my ID still had my permanent address in Richmond, Virginia, and I’m in Fredericksburg. That wouldn’t help me. I grabbed the water bill to prove that I live in this neighborhood. I headed back towards the door, only to catch a glimpse of myself in the hall mirror. I probably didn’t look like I lived in this neighborhood. Back upstairs I went. Almost by muscle memory, I threw on a University of Virginia hoodie and a University of Virginia hat. Even racists love U.Va., or its home of Charlottesville at least. I contemplated throwing on my U.Va. Law hoodie but feared it may have been too much. Would someone feel intimidated and use that as provocation? My anger began rising.
“It’s just a walk!” I told myself as I left the closet clad in orange and blue. But it wasn’t. For the first time, I had to admit to myself that I may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-like symptoms related to the unfettered onslaught of violence against African Americans in America.
I released a deep breath and walked toward the front door, which felt like a precipice. I walked through, now properly garbed, music blaring into my headphones. I paused on the front step. What if someone is yelling for me to stop and I don’t hear them? I left one earbud dangling. It’s safer anyway. It’s now 9:15 p.m.
Confronting the cool air outside, I reached up to pull on my hoodie, then thought better of it. As I walked, I mentally rehearsed the script of what I would say if I was stopped by a police officer or an overzealous neighborhood watchman questioning my whereabouts.
When I arrived back home, I found solace in the fact that of the 200 calories that I had spent on those two rolls, I’d burned 194, and I smiled. But it only papered over the sadness I felt thinking about the world my children will inherit. While I have exposed them to the reality of how the world will treat them as African American children, it is always under the guise that we are trending toward a better and brighter tomorrow.
I’ve heard the stories and seen the look in my father’s eyes and I know what trauma looks like, which is why I can recognize its effects on my actions.
But as the deaths mount, it has become increasingly hard to shield them from the trauma that accompanies. I fear that they too will one day struggle with the PTSD that I am just now admitting I suffer.
As the son of an Army man who served in the 82nd Airborne during Vietnam, I don’t use the term PTSD term lightly. I’ve heard the stories and seen the look in my father’s eyes and I know what trauma looks like, which is why I can recognize its effects on my actions.
Those with PTSD,
according to the American Psychiatric Association,
continue to have “intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings” related to their experience of witnessing a trauma well after the event has ended. They can also feel sadness, fear, or anger; they may feel “detached or estranged from other people,” and may be easily startled or have strong negative reactions to loud noise or an accidental touch.
Through this trauma, African Americans have developed a list of unspoken rules on how to simply exist, learned by verdicts meted out by a legal system that continually fails at what most would consider justice and evidenced by a myriad of hashtags forged in fear. We’ve learned that:
We can’t relax in the comfort of our own homes (#
). We can't ask for help after being in a car crash (
). We can’t sell CD's (
). We can’t sleep (
). We can’t go to church (
). We can’t get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland). We can’t lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile). We can’t shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford). We can’t ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans). We can’t cash our check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood). We can’t run (#WalterScott). We can’t breathe (#EricGarner). We can’t live (#FreddieGray). We can’t exist.
No wrongful death can be condoned, but for many, a vigilante killing like Arbery’s without the cloak of authority provided to law enforcement has inched us perilously close to a tipping point. Many are still reeling from the
of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Police initially declined to arrest his killer George Zimmerman under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Now, eight years later, Arbery was shot and killed by a white man in Brunswick, Georgia, on Feb. 23 — three days before the anniversary of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. The shooter and his father were
arrested only after several months of protests
and the release of a video depicting the shooting. And now, we can’t go jogging (#AhmaudArbery).
While many have taken to the
Childish Gambino view of America,
myself included, one never knows what will trigger someone exposed to consistent trauma. I am far more affected than I could have imagined. What if that were me? Have I lived a life such that even without video evidence, my character will have shone through if I am gunned down? If a 43-year-old black man educated at an elite law school carries such a mental load when he exercises the most basic of his freedoms, then what kind of trauma must those who are less socially and financially secure experience? We suffer from trauma and Ahmaud Arbery has reminded us that still,
we wear the mask
About the Author
Archie L. Alston II
is a Virginia native with a JD from Virginia Law. There he was a Board Member of the Center for the Study of Race and Law, Notes Editor for the Journal of Social Policy and the Law and a writer for the Virginia Law Weekly. He is currently finalizing a legal article, “Affirmative Inaction: How Allowing African Americans to Opt Out of Affirmative Action Can Increase its Efficacy and Recapture its Originators’ Intent” for publication.
“Transforming the National Conversation on Race”
Daniel “Danny” Wise was conspicuous amongst the sea of Black activists and civil rights leaders. He was holding court and commanding attention in the hallway outside the opening session of this year’s 50th Anniversary of the Selma Bridge Crossing in Alabama. Wise was there for the screening of his forthcoming movie musical, SOUL DOCTOR: The Movie. “Transforming the National Conversation on Race,” is Wise’s publicizing premise.
It is a Broadway musical, he adapted to film, that focuses on African American and Jewish relations centered around the historic partnership/friendship between “rock star” Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and iconic musical artist, civil rights activist Nina Simone.
“We’re writing the story of the foremost Jewish composer of the 20th Century,” says Wise, who wrote and directed SOUL DOCTOR on Broadway in 2014 and now the movie. “Carlebach was the father of contemporary Jewish music and the voice of the Jewish revival after the holocaust.
The African American artistic contributions that have defined the field of Abstract Art can be attributed to the creative genius of these four artists. Their experimentation and innovations with their chosen mediums have distinguished them as modern masters. During a time when abstract art was considered to be irrelevant to Black Life - the racially charged environment of the 1950s and 60s - their unapologetic commitment to abstraction was more than just an aesthetic proposition: it was a way of defining art’s role in a society undergoing dramatic change.
The show's title symbolizes a force of conquest and transformation. In the Bible, four is a number associated with creation. This exhibition presents a selection of works created with the use of various printmaking techniques and processes, and is organized by Curlee Raven Holton, master printer and founding director of
Raven Editions Press
Holton has worked with many artists of renown including, Gilliam, Williams, and Edwards who are included in this exhibition. Richard Hunt is represented by his collaboration with master printer, Thom Lucas of Hummingbird Press Editions. We are honored to present theses unique works by such artists of acclaim to you all in association with Raven Fine Art Editions and Hummingbird Press, debuting online Saturday, May 9th 2020.