Collage artist Ekua Holmes took more than fifty people back to her old neighborhood.
Her audience was transported – not by car or bus – but signature images created by Holmes from found objects, torn colored paper and memories of all-things-Roxbury.
“I must confess I didn’t learn how to double-dutch (jump-rope) until I was 20,” said the award-winning artist, narrating over an image of her work she calls “Golden-lores”, depicting a young black girl jumping rope.
“I was totally uncoordinated,” she said, spurring a round of laughter from those seated in the auditorium.
Holmes was one of four storytellers, with strong ties to Roxbury, invited to speak at the Dudley Branch of the Boston Public Library as part of a community forum Saturday entitled “Tell Our Story”, co-sponsored by Fellowes Athenaeum Fund of the Boston Public Library.
The event was also co-sponsored by the Boston chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, which holds its national convention in Boston this summer.
“Part of our job is making sure that the stories of Roxbury, like the ones that are going to be told here today, are told when the (3,000) journalists are here,” said Zuri Berry of BABJ.
“Our illustrious speakers have very strong connections to Roxbury and beyond, and will be telling us the stories through the filters of their own particular disciplines, skills and artistry,” said Kelley Chunn, a Boston-based public relations and marketing consultant who MC’d the event.
Joining Holmes on the panel was veteran photojournalist Don West, Bay State Banner senior editor Yawu Miller and Sarah-Ann Shaw, Boston’s first African American television reporter.
Miller gave an historic overview of Roxbury, where iconic figures, like Malcolm X and Minister Louis Farrakhan, spent time.
“For a community that’s been small, relatively small, we’ve produced incredible thinkers, musicians, political activists, abolitionists,” he said.
West showcased six large black-and-white photos of his for the program, including ones of Nelson Mandela, filmmaker Judy Richardson and a family portrait of Felix D. and Felix G. Arroyo.
“People felt connected,” West said of the images, part of an exhibit he calls “Portraits of Purpose” that will soon be on his website at www.donwestfoto.com.
One of the portraits that was featured Saturday was former state representative Mel King, whose daughter, Pamela, was in attendance.
“I just wanted to hear somebody else talk about Roxbury,” she said. “I knew it was going to be a positive event.”
For a community seldom described as ‘positive’ in the media, some found Saturday’s forum uplifting.
“I was really inspired by Akua’s presentation by sharing her childhood and her presence in Roxbury through art,” said Roxbury resident Kim Janey of Holmes’ work featured at www.ekuaholmes.com .
For Noah Teweldebrahan, of Eritrean descent, who was born and raised in Roxbury, Saturday’s program inspired him to want to make a difference.
“I guess moving forward, it’s to realize the beauty of Roxbury and how much there is to work on,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done.”
For Shaw, a longtime Boston TV news fixture, the city of Boston should do a better job of recognizing those who really made a difference in Roxbury.
“I think that black people did a lot of significant things,” she said. “And I don’t think we’re given credit for all we did to develop Roxbury."
Clennon L. King for Boston.com