Exhibition of Photos by Donald Black Jr. at Deep Roots Experience Gallery Captures Cleveland's Black Youths

"His work is on the ground alongside the people who are from the same environment that he represents"

click to enlarge Exhibition of Photos by Donald Black Jr. at Deep Roots Experience Gallery Captures Cleveland's Black Youths
"Rest Up Coach Q" 2019 by Donald Black Jr.


Photographer Donald Black Jr. returned to his hometown of Cleveland in 2000 to tap into things he felt were particular to the city, especially Black youth.

His recent work over the past decade, which debuts in "A Day No One Will Remember" this Friday, August 19 at the Deep Roots Experience, captures childhood play, imagination, creative expression and the loss of innocence due to society and community circumstances.

“Centering on the Black child in this series is critical because of the premature loss of adolescence. Stories of childhood pain and trauma often dominate our memory. These images represent the balance against the mental suffering that takes place when personal trauma overwhelms us," a press release for the exhibition reads.

There are many children who suffer from adverse childhood experiences, which can hamper their development and follow them into their adult lives. This exhibition captures intimate and playful scenes of young Black children interacting with their world but what is their daily life really like?

“Studies that found Black children are more likely to experience more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) than their peers. In 2020, United Way conducted a community needs assessment, the results showed that 70 percent of Black non-Hispanic children in Ohio have experienced one or more ACEs," notes Gloria Blevins, President of the National Black Child Development Institute- Cleveland, in an article on the topic. "In addition, according to Groundwork Ohio’s Early Childhood Dashboard Preview, in 2019, young Black non-Hispanic children were 3.9 times more likely to be treated or judged unfairly due to their race or ethnicity compared to white children. Black children and family trauma stems from historical trauma and is passed generationally.”

The images in this exhibition depict young Black children encompassed with dramatic lighting, in solitary, candid moments, as well as collective flashes of kids being kids expressing the fervor of a seemingly endless future.

Using experimentation with sharp contrast, use of shadows and reflections, concentration on texture, and the symbiotic relationship between positive and negative space, Black's startling compositions are all testaments to his keen eye and practiced care with regard to mood and lighting.

The images seem like happenstance point-and-shoot moments at first glance, but if one looks deeper, one can see that in addition, these images were seized from careful observation and by a patient person behind the lens. The viewer observes that the search for narrative and ambiance is important to Black and that although happy accidents happen, this is someone who aims to capture the moments which last a lifetime. And that's exactly what he does.

From Black's artist bio:

“All it takes is for someone to drive through some of the roughest parts of Cleveland to witness the beauty and impact of Donald Black, Jr.’s photography. Black’s work is on the ground alongside the people who are from the same environment that he represents. And when you hear his story, with all of its rugged and rough edges, you’ll understand why it’s so impressive that he was able to maintain the focus needed to avoid falling into the traps that his environment steadily situated and promoted. “

Deep Roots Experience art gallery is located in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood and offers a dedicated space working exclusively with Black, Latin, and Indigenous artists. The opening reception for “A Day No One Will Remember” will take place on Aug. 19th from 6-10 p.m. at 7901 Central Ave. The exhibition runs through Sept. 11.
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