When Ganesha high school teacher Kevin Tharpe instructed his advanced arts class to draw a portrait of a person of color who had influenced them, the students did not have to think much.
Michael Jordan. Ruby Bridges. Rihanna.
These are some of the artists and role models drawn by the students and featured in a new collection of portraits located in Hillcrest Retirement Community in La Verne. Titled “Our African-American Influence,” the gallery aims to showcase black culture and its impact on daily life.
At a reception Friday, Feb. 25, Tharpe and his 16 students were honored as part of the gallery and Black History Month celebration by Hillcrest. Present to speak were Pomona School Unified District officials, La Verne Mayor Tim Hepburn and other local leaders.
While the location of the gallery is not typical, it is intentional, said Hillcrest CEO Matthew Neeley.
after George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, a small group of residents and staff at the nursing home formed a committee dedicated to emphasizing diversity, equality, and inclusion. The gallery is part of these efforts, created by turning the living room into a mini-museum where different cultures and lifestyles are displayed every second month. Currently, the room highlights the black story, including a timeline of the civil rights movement, a quilt inspired by the subway, and a photo of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Tharpe hopes that students will be able to expand their personal connection to the individual highlighted in their portraits. Doing so, he says, will lead students to “build respect for African-American culture.”
“As Americans, we are blessed with the opportunity to be influenced by many cultures. “Whether we realize it or not, these positive and negative influences affect our lives and the way we choose to live them,” Tharpe said.
“I believe it is important for Americans to accept these influences in order to help tear down the walls that divide us, and we hope to create a more productive and receptive nation that learns to work together for the good of the country.” he continued.
The new collection represents the first time many of the students have displayed their work in a gallery, they said. They were also asked to write a short essay on their relationship to the individual they chose to draw.
One by one, each of the 16 artists explained why they chose their theme and the impact they have had on their lives.
“Lenny Kravitz gave me another way to connect with my dad because he was the one who introduced me to him and the music in the first place,” said Jacob Cazares.
For Jasmine Hernandez-Garcia, after introducing herself to R&B icon Nina Simone through a song, she said, she wanted to know more about the artist and civil rights activist.
“I feel like I was not doing her justice by liking her only for her music, so I decided (to look) a little more at the path and her achievements that she had achieved,” said Hernandez-Garcia. “Let me tell you, I was amazed.”
Janelle Martinez said she found daily inspiration after hearing the story of Ruby Bridges, the first African-American student to integrate an elementary school in the South.
“If I were to pass what Ruby did on my way to school, I would refuse to go for fear. “There are not many people who stay kind after being treated horribly,” Martinez said. “Because it inspires me every day to be compassionate with others because there is not enough kindness in the world.”
Portraits from the advanced art class are available for purchase, starting at $ 50. All proceeds go directly to the artist, according to Tharpe.
The collection is on display until March 25 at Hillcrest Retirement Community, 2705 Mountain View Drive in La Verne.
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