For years, being recognized as an Afro Clean Block was one of the greatest honors that an African American neighborhood could achieve. Neighbors took the competition seriously. They could be seen, early in the morning, scrubbing steps, sweeping sidewalks and lining their blocks with flower-filled planters, hoping to be the next block chosen to fly the coveted clean block banner. Often, the results they awaited would be delivered by Afro newsboys and newsgirls.
This year, as the Afro American Newspaper marks its 120th anniversary, members of the community will be able to relive those golden memories and more, through an exhibition at the Reginald Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, entitled “Growing Up Afro: Snapshots of Black Childhood.” Curated by Afro archivist John Gartrell, the exhibition of 120 photographs selected from the Afro Archives Collection will highlight the historical involvement of young people in the community's and newspaper's longevity. It will enjoy a six-month run, opening June 23 and closing December 30, 2012.
Presented in six sections and themes, A Child Shall Lead; Children of All Seasons; Games We Play; Growing Up Afro; Worth A Thousand Words; and Golden School Days, the exhibition pictorially captures images of African American children participating in activities ranging from protests and demonstrations to showing off their Easter finery during a Pennsylvania Avenue Easter Parade.
"The exhibition pivots around the Afro's coverage of black life through the lens of children. And – it is a celebration of the impact that the Afro has had on the community. Nowadays, there's so much negative news about the youngest generation. This is an opportunity to revisit and celebrate young people and how they've been so much of a fabric of this institution," Gartrell explains.
Michelle J. Wilkinson, Ph.D., the museum's Director of Collections & Exhibitions, has worked closely with Gartrell in organizing the show. She concurs, "Culled from the AFRO Newspapers photo archives, this exhibition is a wonderful visual document of young Marylanders actively and positively engaged in their communities."
She goes on to say, "Particularly in the section on youth activism … I think today’s youth will be informed and inspired by the generations that came before. Often we see images of adults protesting, or marching for civil rights. In this exhibition, with the lens on children, we witness our youngest citizens participating in movements for social change."
One major goal of the exhibition is to rekindle the sense of pride and excitement that people experienced when they saw their faces or those of family members and friends in the newspaper's pages.
"It's an opportunity for mothers and grandmothers to say, 'You know, I was in the Afro in 19-so-and so'," says Gartrell.
"It is also a great way to showcase the Afro archives, the collection there and the tremendous work that's been done over the past five or six years to preserve the collection, create an inventory for it and make it more available to researchers."
While the exhibition looks back over the past 120 years, the Afro hopes that it will enable the newspaper and the community to project forward. There are plans to create an online presence for this awesome story, as well as an online companion exhibition, allowing all to introduce or re-introduce themselves, their kids and grandkids to the Afro and what it means.
These are ambitious goals and will take the physical and financial support of the community to accomplish and achieve excellence. As a result, the Afro is seeking donations in the form of tax deductable donations to Afro Charities and sponsorships of the exhibition's six sections. Interested parties should contact Mrs. Susan Gould for additional information about making a donation at 410-554-8289 or [email protected].
John Gartrell reminds us, "We want the community to embrace this exhibition. It is really as much theirs as it is ours. We hope that, as we're preparing it, people will want to contribute to it financially to help make it the best it possibly can be, but we also hope they come out and support the Afro and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum because these are our institutions. They are telling our stories."