New Black History Month art exhibit tells story of family migration

Lauren Bally, Reporter


A new art exhibit celebrating Black History Month will open at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., on Saturday.

The display, created by artist Jevoid Simmons, will run through March 6. Harvey Pranian, the curator for this exhibit, said he hopes for a large turnout.

“I think it’s important to give this message to the community and have them share it,” Pranian said.

Simmons’ collection is titled “A Family’s Journey North,” and is a group of 16 paintings that tells the story of his family’s migration from Alabama to Iowa in the 1950’s. Jennifer Lasik, the Evanston cultural arts coordinator, says this exhibition will be a bit different from others.

“I think people will be fascinated,” Lasik said. “Not just from the artwork, but also with the story. Something different with this is that we actually put the narrative on cork boards below the art, so it’s almost like walking through a history museum.”

Simmons, who was about a year old when the events of his paintings took place, has retraced much of his history to tell the story. The first painting shows his father’s white boss berating him.

“My father got into an argument with his white boss, who yelled at him in front of everyone, accusing him of doing a bad job when he wasn’t,” Simmons said. “My father chased the foreman out of the workshop with a pipe.”

Later that night, his father was stopped by other white men from his workplace, who threatened him. From there, things only escalated.

“We were actually warned by a sympathetic neighbor, a white man who told us … the Ku Klux Klan were coming for my father and that we were in danger from what was essentially a lynchmob,” Simmons said. “That confrontation was the catalyst for the whole reason for migrating.”

Simmons, who currently works as the director of employee relations at the Art Institute of Chicago, was around a year old when he his family moved north to Davenport, Iowa, but he still has many memories of Alabama.

“We went back many times when I was growing up. We had a lot of family there,” Simmons said. “I have 15 siblings, and the four oldest were born in Alabama, and the rest in Iowa, and they didn’t understand why.”

Lasik finds the story to be so important because while many people associate slavery, prejudice and racism with the Lincoln era in the 1800’s, this story happened only a few decades ago.

“It’s shocking that this is very recent history,” Lasik said. “It’s only one generation back. This kind of thing doesn’t affect people in one area of the history or in one lifestyle, but it connects us.”

And although the story of Simmons’ family is not necessarily a happy one, his reception will bring his family back together.

“I want to share my story, share my slice of life, and I hope this will make others want to share their story as well,” Simmons said. “I believe everyone has a story, whether you’re Native American, Caucasian, Hispanic or African American, and they all deserve to be shared. Because when we share our stories, we find that we have more more similarities than differences. Our storytelling unifies humanity.”

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