The in-person exhibit features portrait photography by Eric Deshawn Lerma, a former Cuesta College student. The gallery also features a video by Stephan Heraldo of Community Roots Project. Both projects are inspired by Frederick Douglas, an abolitionist and influential Black American writer in the 19th century, who believed that portraits of Black people was a way to challenge racism and end slavery.
Portraits displayed in the “We Are Here” gallery. Photos by Eric Deshawn Lerma
“We Are Here” is part of R.A.C.E. Matters SLO’s program called “Belonging,” a “multimedia arts series that amplifies Black voices, creativity, and possibility.” Some of the guiding principles behind R.A.C.E. Matters SLO include prioritizing the needs of the Black community and people of color, helping celebrate diversity and push for inclusion by featuring authors and artists in all marginalized groups.
“It started five years ago in a group of like-minded people who just thought there should be more, at the very least, dialogue around racial justice here,” said Courtney Haile, co-founder of R.A.C.E. Matters SLO, at the gallery’s open night. “It’s a multi-racial group and we’ve since pivoted towards arts and culture as you see tonight, also towards educational and social experiences that either amplify racial justice issues or black voices.”
Community members and students viewing the many portraits by Eric Deshawn Lerma at the “We Are Here” exhibit. Photo by Adam J. Schooley
Each portrait in the series brings to the forefront individuals of various ethnicities and backgrounds, ranging from young activists to local business owners. Every photo by Lerma is also accompanied by a short online video produced by Community Roots Project that offers a deep and personal look into what makes each individual unique. These videos, and more information about current and future events, are available on the R.A.C.E. Matters SLO website.
R.A.C.E. Matters SLO member, Julie Lynem, welcoming visitors at the opening night for “We Are Here.” Photo by Adam J. Schooley
“What strikes me a lot is just being able to center the voices and seeing the vivid photographs,” said Julie Lynem, one of the members of R.A.C.E. Matters SLO. “They really grab you. It’s almost like you can touch the folds on LaTosha’s garments, you know, and it’s really speaking to our community.”
The exhibit is available for viewing Monday – Friday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. or by appointment. Admission is free and open to the public, and all visitors must be vaccinated or have a negative Covid-19 test.