Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, NBA All- Star Weekend in NYC, CIAA Weekend in Charlotte, Mardi Gras in New Orleans. With all the distractions of other holidays and events in February, it’s easy to forget that it’s also Black History Month.
A little history on Black History Month. The celebratory month was intially created as a week in 1926 in the United States by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. The expansion to a month first took place at Kent State in February 1970 and in 1976 as part of the United States Bicentennial, Black History Month was officially recognized by the U.S. government. President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Fast forward to 39 years later, social media has played a major role in promoting the relevance of the month. Daily posts of black history facts on personal accounts like Global Grind’s Director Michael Skolnik’s Instagram page and McDonald’s 365 Black initiative highlighted past achievements, milestones and anniversaries in black history. Others used the month to promote their own black history in the making. New Orleanian photographer and graphic designer Ashley Lorraine opened a photo exhibit the last weekend on February called, “Black Men in America” of nearly 20 photos of young black men photographed with the American flag in various ways. One breathtaking shot showed a model with the flag grasped in his hand while it’s draped across his face and body, leaving room for interpretation. Another shot was more clearly defined and boldly captured. Two wrists criss-crossed and a flag wrapped around them, resembling handcuffs.
Although emotionally stirring, Lorraine wants these images to evoke those feelings into positive action. “Everything you see in the media is negative and you rarely see positive images of African-American men,” Lorraine said. “One thing I want people to get, especially African-American men is that they’ll see these images of strength and get some type of encouragement.” One participant in “Black Men in America,” Terrell Solete, said he felt encouraged from being a part of the project. “I had buried my grandmother the day before the shoot, so when I showed up, I put all my emotion into this,”Solete said. “It was a great experience and I know she [grandmother] would’ve been proud.”
The artist also added she hopes that her exhibit could “inspire some of our youth to create their own positive images.” To get to know more about Lorraine and see more of the shots from her exhibit, follow her on Instagram at @iamashleylorraine.