Bridging Communities Photography Project
Palm Springs Black History Committee
City of Palm Springs
Palm Springs Art Museum
February 14, 2016
Congresswoman Waters Opening Remarks
Good evening, and thank you Ms. Jherveri (JAH-VER-EE) for the kind introduction! I was delighted when the Palm Springs Black History Committee invited me to spend Valentines Day here with such a talented, creative, and energizing group. When Bernard Hoyes told me about this event just a few months ago, I knew that it was something that I could not miss.
I would like to start by thanking the Black History Committee, the City of Palm Springs, and the Palm Springs Art Museum for collaborating and coming together to host the Bridging Communities Photography Project. I can think of no better way to celebrate Black History Month than by bringing together the two most important aspects of our community and culture: youth and the arts, together in such a beautiful space. The Palm Springs Art Museum truly is one of this City’s precious treasures.
And of course, I’d like to give special recognition to two renowned photographers, the late Mr. Donald Cravens and Mr. Alfonso Murray. Mr. Cravens, whose works are currently on display, spent his life showcasing a critical piece of America’s history. He single-handedly escalated the progress of the civil rights movement with iconic photographs that captured moments like Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her sit on a segregated bus. It is also a pleasure to mention Mr. Murray, with us here today, who too has depicted such moving stories in each and every one of his photographs, particularly of the many civil rights demonstrations he has photographed in our modern day.
Please give him a round of applause.
The Bridging Communities Photography Project brings us all together to evaluate and ask ourselves, “Are we making progress?” “Have we succeeded?” Without a doubt, this is a critical time for the African-American community as we reflect on our progress this month- but also as we look ahead on the long road we still have ahead of us.
I know of course that I do not have to explain to anyone here today the power of photography and the role photojournalism played during the civil rights movement. It was the power of photographs- depicting the fire hoses, the dogs jumping on young people because they were standing up to inequality, the aggressive policemen with their clubs, that moved and motivated people around the nation to finally stand up in the 1960s and create a movement and put a stop to systemic segregation and discrimination.
We owe it to photographic journalism for truly igniting the civil rights movement. Seeing photos of Rosa Parks as Mr. Cravens captured; and seeing the photos we have all seen of the Montgomery Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington along with the iconic photo of Martin Luther King delivering his historic speech, to name a few- these are some of the visual aids that have had such a profound effect on so many Americans and enabled the African-American community to propel us towards progress and equal justice. These are the photos that ultimately encouraged African-Americans to leave their homes and march in Selma; these are the photos that touched the lives of countless other advocates and allies who were called to join in this movement, fighting for equality so that all in could have access to the American dream; housing, equal opportunity, and justice under the law. These are the photos that turned anti-discrimination sentiments into a national movement leading to landmark civil rights legislation.
Photography was such a precious and valuable tool for photojournalists in the 60s that made the movement what it was, and our youth see this potential and continue to build on it today.
But unlike the 1960s, in an era when photography has become an inseparable part of our lives, and accessible to all, it is criticial today that we reflect on photojournalism’s moral and political significance. After all, with so many photos and visuals bombarding us each day, it is important to make a clear distinction between the distractions and the true works of art that compel us.
Kiana Escobedo, Andy Villatero, Lonnie Johnson, Rian Rollins, and Bryce Taylor are part of a new generation of leaders who are invigorating a wave of change into our society. They are doing what our civil rights leaders took part in decades ago and what Donald Craven and Alfonso Murray have done all their lives: taking visual record of our nation’s most precious moments for all to bear witness. Not only are their photographs inspiring works of art that will stand the test of time, but they will work to alert millions of Americans to what’s happening in our neighboring towns, cities, and states. These students offer refreshing reminders on the current conditions of our society and motivate people of every race and color to stand up in the face of injustice and take real action.
Beyond the masterpieces we see before us in this museum, most of us now bear the ability to capture a photograph or video with the click of a button on our smartphones and the ability to immediately publish content online for millions to see. As such, Americans from coast to coast are witnessing a constant stream of the discrimination African-Americans face in cities from Long Island New York and Detroit to Ferguson. The work of our aspiring high school students, the work of artists like Mr. Cravens and Mr. Murray, and the work of thousands across our nation who capture events once impossible to catch have created a new wave of momentum- the Black Lives Matter movement.
In fact, this movement owes its very existence to the many intimate videos published online for the world to see. Today, it takes less than a second to film or photograph some of the atrocities occurring around us. Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, Tamir Rice, Ezell Ford, and Sandra Bland- these are five innocent, precious lives lost too soon, and deaths that would have gone utterly unnoticed had we not had the ability to capture their perpetrator’s severe crimes. We are experiencing a new level of heightened awareness that is changing our political discourse and igniting new change.
Last year I hosted the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Tamir Rice and Ezell Ford, and was reminded of the outrage, pain, and suffering of black discrimination. The visual documentation of their children bring to mind the historic photo of Emmet Till’s open casket, the teenager who was brutally beaten and mutilated by two white men in the South, and redirected attention to the rights of blacks in the South.
Today, we are redirecting modern atrocities into meaningful change, though far too often we forget these events should spark healing, not pain and despair. I continuously feel the power of these mothers ripple into our communities and promote the infliction of real change and action within our government and society. It is this power of healing that we must harvest into real, constructive, progress, so that our futures don’t uphold the same values and bigotry we faced in our history and continue to experience today.
So I close with a final message to our students, to keep fostering their passion of the creative arts and continue inspiring their audience to stand up for our American brothers and sisters and contribute to a future that encourages equality and opportunity for each and every American.
I would now like to welcome Jarvis Crawford from the Black History Committee. Thank you.