The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. has commissioned Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald to paint Barack and Michelle Obama’s portraits, respectively, the Wall Street Journal reports. Both portraits will be unveiled next year when they are added to the museum’s collection.
Wiley is known for Old Masters–style portraits of contemporary black sitters. He has occasionally discussed the positive impact Barack Obama’s presidency had on artists creating images of non-white sitters. “The reality of Barack Obama being the president of the United States—quite possibly the most powerful nation in the world—means that the image of power is completely new for an entire generation of not only black American kids, but every population group in this nation,” he told BBC News in 2012.
The Baltimore-based Amy Sherald, who paints minimalist pictures of black Americans is less well-known than Wiley. She has had two shows with Monique Meloche Gallery, and next year will have a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.
President Barack Obama continues to lead this country with class and heart, delivering a touching and emotional eulogy for state Senator and Reverend Clementa Pinckney, an unfortunate victim in the tragic shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last week. Obama spoke eloquently of the good works and commitment to community Pinckney had, and solemnly acknowledged by name each of the church members who lost their lives with Pinckney. He then proceeded to talk about the history of the black church and the power of grace.
To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. The church is and always has been the center of African American life… a place to call our own in a too-often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.
Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah…” … rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.
They have been and continue to community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harms way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter. That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means — our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people in inviolate.
There’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church… built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again, a phoenix from these ashes.
Obama goes on to address the Confederate flag as a symbol of systemic oppression and racial subjugation, and calls getting rid of it as “one step in an honest accounting of America’s history. A modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.” To read a transcript of his incredible eulogy, which also forcefully addresses mass incarceration, police brutality, voting rights, gun violence and systemic racial bias, click here. To see it in full, watch below:
An article published in The Root last year about a Florida barbershop that promotes literacy sparked a movement miles away in the cities of Prichard and Mobile, Ala.
Freddie Stokes launched Books for Boys about three weeks ago. He initially intended to establish small libraries, of about 75 books each, in two or three barbershops, but the response to his initiative was so overwhelming that Stokes says he’s now able to establish libraries in at least six barbershops. The first one will open in mid-June.
“We don’t want to stop until all the barbershops in this community have libraries,” he says, with an air of reserved confidence that it will be done.
Stokes is supplying books with which black boys can identify. “When our boys say they don’t like to read, a lot of that is coming from not being interested in reading about characters that don’t look like them,” he explains. His growing stockpile includes biographies, such as Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X, 12 Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope.
In addition to promoting literacy, Books for Boys aims to raise self-esteem. Stokes grew up in public housing and struggled early in school, having to repeat the third grade. A teacher inspired him to read books, including those about successful African Americans, which allowed him to dream big and ultimately achieve his goals.
Stokes worked in classrooms for two years through Teach for America, an organization that places recent college graduates and professionals in underserved classrooms. He introduced his students to books with positive black characters and watched their self-esteem grow.
“When I went from the classroom to the courtroom, I was able to connect the violence to a lack of reading and self-esteem,” says Stokes, who is also a criminal defense attorney in private practice.
“After reading the article in The Root, I asked myself, why isn’t this [barbershop libraries] in every community?” he recalls. “Then one day I got an epiphany: Just get up and do the work. We can’t wait on the government to do it for us.”
Stokes admits that he didn’t expect the overwhelming response that he received. Barbershop owners said that they are expecting scores of boys to come in over the summer and would gladly offer them books. Parents, sometimes groups of them, are donating with a request that Stokes open a library where they take their sons. And local professionals are opening their wallets to sponsor barbershops, sometimes with a request that Stokes purchase books that emphasize math and science.
In a few short weeks, Stokes’ grassroots effort raised more than $1,500 on GoFundMe. Folks in the community have also given about $800 in cash donations toward the purchase of books. Stokes hopes that this small effort ignites a larger movement that reaches well beyond the Mobile area.