Photos by Keeley Smith.
City staff, elected officials and leaders of the Long Beach black community gathered yesterday afternoon at Long Beach City Hall to commemorate Black History Month for 2016 and kick off a series of events that will take place all month, celebrating black history.
The City Hall ceremony brought organizers of the various events together, offering them time to speak and introduce exhibits, ranging from this weekend's “Innovation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” Forgotten Images: a Traveling Educational Exhibit and Museum, Duke Givens’ exhibit The Power of Choice and a glimpse at a genealogy program spearheaded by Images of America: Selma author Sharon Jackson, in collaboration with councilmembers Rex Richardson and Al Austin.
The themes surrounding the events and yesterday’s presentation centered on providing Long Beach’s youth with knowledge of the struggles the black community has gone through, hopefully informing their future actions in today’s world.
“We don’t want to just throw [errant] youth in jail,” said Austin. “We need to improve communities of color. We have to make sure we create ladders of opportunity for our next generation.”
“We came from everywhere,” said Jackson. “Knowing our genealogy is where we need to start.”
David McLucas, curator of the Forgotten Images exhibit, hopes to make more people in the community—particularly young people—aware of their history.
“The younger generation doesn’t know the struggle the community has gone through, and how we got to where we are today,” said McLucas. “If I can reach one or two children, then I’ve done my job.”
His exhibit, which began at a swap meet and saw images of the African American community’s past that he’d never seen, now has over 20,000 pieces encapsulating national historic moments. According to McLucas, the Smithsonian has seen the exhibit, which is normally housed in his home. He said his collection is national in scope, while Duke Givens’ photography exhibit, to be showcased at a separate venue, is solely focused on Long Beach.
McLucas’ wife, Sharon, said she believes advancements for women and in technology has made her generation a bit more complacent in spreading awareness of the black community’s struggle in the U.S. and worldwide, resulting in a “lack of direction” among people born after 1978.
“We’ve gotten comfortable,” she said. “Our parents from the South worked hard to provide for their children, made them aware of their history.”
Givens’ Power of Choice exhibition was inspired by his desire to show the “good, bad, ugly and pretty” of the City of Long Beach, he said. As a graduate of Long Beach Poly and veteran, he said he left to “fight a war” and “returned to war” in Long Beach during the early 1990s. His experiences inspired his photography, which he said he uses to show youth the impact of their life choices.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s work with Al Austin and Rex Richardson put them on a family tree trail that led to 1655, through slavery, interracial marriage and dealings with the KKK.
“With all of this technology, you have to truly know from whence you came,” she said.
This is the month for many in the community to find out.
The Innovation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow event will take place Friday, February 5 through Sunday, February 7 at the Expo Arts Center with a small business reception, a showcase of the Forgotten Images exhibit, an exhibit titled Breaking Through, Lighting the Way by Carolyn Smith Watts and Sunny Nash and a performance by Grammy-winning group The Emotions Saturday night. A gospel brunch will be held on Sunday at 1:00PM, catered by M’Dear’s Bakery & Bistro. Tickets available at the door, if not sold out. Click here for tickets.
The Power of Choice will be held at The Breakers. More information (and a story by Culture Agent columnist Sander Roscoe Wolff) to come.
The Expo Arts Center is located at 4321 Atlantic Avenue.