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Roxbury Center to unveil 15 portraits to honor state's African-American greats

Posted by  September 13, 2013 08:00 AM

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Amherst College graduate and blood bank pioneer Dr. Charles Drew.

More than dozen portraits of African American achievers with ties to Greater Boston and Massachusetts will be honored at an upcoming Roxbury exhibit opening.

Roxbury-based Edward L. Cooper Community Garden and Education Center will unveil the permanent exhibit that celebrates pioneers of African descent – both living and dead – who have made a difference in Massachusetts and the world, said Jacqueline Johnson Maloney, member of the Board of Directors of the Cooper Center.

Located in the heart of Fort Hill, Roxbury, the Community Garden and Center is an inter-generational oasis in an economically diverse and stable community.

“It is our hope that young people will be inspired to dream big and build on the foundation left by our elders and ancestors,” said Carol Shearer, another board member and a resident of the neighborhood.

The individuals featured in this exhibit stand on the shoulders of the builders of the pyramids, Washington monuments, and of the African Meeting House in Boston.

ElmaLewis.jpgThe portraits include Amherst College graduate and blood bank pioneer Dr. Charles Drew; Boston University School of Medicine graduate and professor Solomon Carter Fuller; the first black psychiatrist in the United States, Elma Ina Lewis (left), who founded and operated for more than 30 years a school of the arts for black youth; and former Massachusetts State Representative Mel King, a longtime community organizer, and founder of the South End Technology Center of Boston.

The Community Unveiling and Festivities will be held Saturday, Sept. 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Edward L. Cooper Community Garden and Education Center, 34 Linwood St. in Roxbury. The free event is open to the public and will also feature vendors, food, school supply giveaways, pony rides, and much more. 
Maloney, a longtime Roxbury resident, said The Solomon Trust commissioned the portraits to honor her late mother, Carmen Rubinia Solomon (Maloney-Welch) of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“When she emigrated from Trinidad, it was her intention to attend medical school.  Social norms and Caribbean culture required that she stay home and raise her four children. She was extremely gifted and lived vicariously through the educational achievements of her children,” said Maloney.

“She loved the arts and sciences and would have been honored to help celebrate these greats. This exhibit honors those whose dreams would not be deferred.  These men and women have laid a foundation for all Americans to build upon,” Maloney said.

An exceptionally gifted team of high school and college-aged graphic designers at South Boston-based Artists for Humanity assiduously researched the subjects’ vocations and avocations before producing the computer-aided portraits.  Among them was Kenyan-born Hamza Mohamed, 16.

“It’s inspiring to learn how these African-Americans strived for success and pursued their dreams,” said Mohamed, a rising sophomore at Boston Latin Academy, who has aspirations of being a professional graphic artist. “It makes me really happy that they found success by following their dreams.”

RobertGibbs.jpgThe portrait honorees also include Artists for Humanity cofounder and paint studio director Rob D. Gibbs (right). Gibbs, a critically acclaimed graffiti artist known as “ProBlak,” said it was “surreal” to be part of the focus of the project.

“To be mentioned in the same company and context as these forefathers is kind of humbling,” Gibbs said. “It lets me know that my work is not over.”

Organizers said the exhibit also illustrates the significant relationships of math and computer technology to the creation of these paintings.

In addition to the depictions of Gibbs, Drew, Lewis, Fuller and King are educational advocate and engineer Dr. Karl W. Reid; NASA astronaut Ronald E. McNair; internationally renowned artist Allan Rohan Crite; NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison; inventor Lewis Latimer; developer, engineer, and activist Kenneth Irvin Guscott; Massachusetts Medical Society's first African-American president, Dr. Alice Tolbert Coombs; Harvard Medical School's first African-American female dean, Dr. Joan Reed; Civil Rights leader Robert Moses; and Dr. Rebecca Crumpler, the first black female physician in the US.

The permanently installed exhibit at the Edward Cooper Community Garden and Education Center is available for school and community tours by appointment.
Clennon L. King can be reached at


Dr. Rebecca Crumpler, the first black female physician in the US.

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