Black History Month exhibit opens at Noyes Cultural Arts Center

Jee Young Lee, Reporter

The Noyes Cultural Arts Center hosted a reception Saturday for a new exhibit celebrating Black History Month that features artwork depicting one family’s experience in the 1950s South.

The event celebrated the launch of Jevoid Simmons’ exhibit, “A Family’s Journey Home,” which will be open to the public from Saturday until March 6. The exhibit features sculptures of his family members as well as a series of paintings that depict their experience in the racially charged climate of Alabama during the early 1950s.

“It’s been an ongoing project for 25 years,” said Harvey Pranian, the curator of the exhibit and an acquaintance of Simmons.

Leaving behind their deep-rooted family history in the South, Simmons’ family had to resettle in the North to escape the environment that was becoming increasingly dangerous for black Americans. Simmons said the threat of frequent lynching caused about six million black Americans to leave the South between 1915 and 1970.

The son of Ruth and James Simmons, Jevoid Simmons documented his experience and the experience of former generations through the stories told by his father and siblings.

“(My father) was a person very driven to share information,” he said.

In the early 1950s, after experiencing maltreatment and discrimination from his boss, Simmons’ father was determined to move his family north. He ultimately arrived at Davonport, Iowa, securing a job at a restaurant to support the family’s new life. Though many challenges lay ahead, the family had finally found a safe home, according to the exhibit.

“The story is quite amazing. It’s heartwarming, and it’s frightening as well,” Pranian said.

Simmons referred to his father as a source of inspiration for his art.

“(My father told me to) do more than take up space in life … If you are standing around and leave where you were standing, it should be better for your having been there,” he said.

Simmons also said the most important message he wants to impart through his artwork is to “tell your story,” saying that dialogues are where true understanding comes from.

“This is a very unique story, but it’s only unique because it’s mine,” he said. “There are many other stories like this. I’ve talked to individuals on the street about this and heard their stories. … It’s not even just black stories. A lot of stories of how people come here, and the challenges that they go through coming here — they are very real.”

He extended the discussion of historical racial discrimination against African Americans to everybody, emphasizing the importance of storytelling in alleviating racial tension and promoting unity.

“It’s really powerful,” said Adam Lasik, an attendee and Evanston resident.

Simmons’ artwork is a reflection of reality that people often associate with the past, he said.

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