The Riverside Arts Center held a black history month opening reception Friday, Feb. 1 with internationally exhibiting artists, regional professionals and Ypsilanti Community schools students acrylic painting.
Upon entering the building, there was artwork on the wall around the room such as photographs, paintings, drawings and more. Various artwork could be purchased and taken home that day. Light food and refreshments were provided for the evening.
An artwork that stood out the most and placed center of the room behind the panelists was an acrylic painting by the students of Ypsilanti Community High School that said, “Different But The Same.”
As people began coming inside for the event, everyone decided to first look at all the artwork around the room and engaged in light conversation. Shortly after the emcee Morghan Boydston introduced the first scheduled act, Aaron Lamar, comedian, did a 10-minute bit before being introduced to the next spot.
Boydston introduced the first of two panels, and the panelists answered questions to the theme “This Aint Nothing New.”
Each panel member introduced themselves followed by a quick description of who they are and what they do. The first panelists were Caroline Sanders, alumna of Eastern Michigan University, Brother Noah, poet/musician, Desirae Simmons, Local Activist, and Bryan Foley, City of Sustainability Commissioner of Ypsilanti.
Various things were said regarding the African-American community and how some things need to change, have not changed, the power and potential black people have and more.
One of the issues discussed was a point made by Sanders and how black people are underestimated when it comes to education, speaking or anything done properly. She touched on the fact that when black people speak properly, they are given microaggression, followed by the phrase, “Oh you speak so well.”
The subject of Martin Luther King Jr. and his beliefs of peaceful protest came up as well as how his beliefs inspired the idea of how much power there is in silence and not doing anything as a way to get something.
After each panelist gave a discussion, a quick Q&A by the emcee asked the panelists who they may model and inspire them, and whose ideas and beliefs they seek to amend.
Some of the people who they modeled were people of the community, former councilman, and Booker T. Washington. Some of the people and ideas they wished to amend were the acts of parents who are either verbally or physically abusive to children because of the idea that if they grow up in an environment of abuse, then they’ll grow up believing they deserve abuse. Another idea that they wanted amended was the issues caused by the actual person themselves.
The second group of panelists were introduced: Keena Winterz, poet, Abby Davis, alumna of EMU, Alex Thomas, Local activist and Talk Show Host, and Anthony Morgan, Ypsilanti City Council member.
Morgan gave a poetic answer to what his interpretation of “This Aint Nothing New.” Each panelist was given the same questions as the first, but one more question was asked on what they believed black liberation looks like.
Before the panel was done, each person gave a piece of advice for anyone in the future wanting to continue the work they do such as:
1. Build a relationship with others.
2. Never think you’ve mastered everything, there is always something to learn.
3. Even if the world is cruel to you, you do not have to be cruel to the world. Another lesson learned from Martin Luther King Jr.
4. Asking what do you need? Sometimes the best way to help someone is not just automatically giving them lessons you’ve learned or experienced, but to ask what they may need help with because they’re experiencing something different.
To close the event, EMU’s Poetry Society member Marcus LaGuerre gave a five to 10-minute poem regarding the theme of the night.
“The event went really well,” Boydston said. “I wanted to help provide a space where people got to speak in a way that they can feel heard and also provide some wisdom to folks that are either wanting to do some organizing work around racial justice or are tired from doing work around racial justice.”
Boydston added: “We wanted to provide a space that’s reinvigorating, releasing and acknowledging. I think that happened here, but when you’re trying to create spaces like that then that’s not for me to say. I hope that people left having felt some parts of that.”
Ava Ansari, a new member of the Ypsilanti community, has experienced some struggles of her own in the past and present, and being from Iran could relate to those struggles. At the event, Ansari felt she had a safe space to confide in.
Ansari stated: “I think this was a very good example of the capabilities of the black community in Ypsi and the possibilities of co-organizing with art spaces that are welcoming minority groups in order to put together some programing or presentation of their identity in a celebratory way.”
“I think the fact that you had examples of diverse art works made by young majorly black or African-American, however you identify on the walls, while the conversations were happening was really powerful,” Ansari said. “The people on the panel came from honest spaces with life experiences, and they shared the essences of their work and what thrives them to work in a difficult environment,” she added.