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The story behind this 'Black is Beautiful' billboard in Jackson Ward

'The more we educate ourselves, and we get to a place of inclusion and understanding, that's the key'
Posted at 7:31 PM, Jul 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-06 11:10:51-04

RICHMOND, Va-- If you've driven down Chamberlyn Parkway and Jackson Street in the past few weeks, a bold billboard may have caught your eye.

In honor of Juneteenth, Dream for Purpose created the "Black is Beautiful" billboard to create an opportunity for conversation.

"For anybody, Black is beautiful can mean a lot of different things," Dream for Purpose Creative Director Ricky Parker said.

The eye-catching billboard with its bold letters sits at the entrance of one of the nation’s historic Black communities.

Parker said he and his wife, Whitney, had two objectives when planning the display.

"The goals for this project was in two parts. The first was empowerment, but the second piece was education...We really wanted to shine light on the story about how Jackson Ward was a hub for commerce, entertainment for Black people and just how at one point it was considered the Harlem of the South," Ricky Parker said. "The population within Jackson Ward isn’t all Black. You do have White people who live here. So this becomes and educational moment about how do you bring awareness to people who may not be Black, to understand this conversation that Black is Beautiful."

The phrase, Black is Beautiful was created during the Black movement in the 60s. It was a time where many African Americans were redefining what it meant to be Black in America.

"During this era, there was a rise in the demand for black history courses, a greater embrace of African culture, and a spread of raw artistic expression displaying the realities of African Americans," according to research from the National Archives on African American heritage.

The couple said they chose the phrase to help in continuing the narrative for today’s movement, especially after attending protests in Richmond and wanting to do more for the cause.

"I know a lot of people thought that we were talking about just your outside appearance, but it's so much more. It's just thinking about what our ancestors had to endure. And the strength, and just the beauty of that -- to just get through that just, so we're able to be here today," Whitney Parker said.

"It was really also a sense of social responsibility for us to kind of do this project," Ricky Parker said. "Being a professor at Virginia Union University and Virginia Commonwealth University. Really figuring out how to just get to a place of doing something that is bold or can be an example in the classroom."

Accordingly, the Parkers came up with the billboard to show different ways to fight for change with the hope that more people will understand and support each other.

"Even though it's like a fight we're in right now with Black Lives Matter, there are constantly other fights going on where I think the more we educate ourselves and we get to a place of inclusion and understanding," Ricky Parker said. "That's the thing I would really encourage anybody.... If they have seen the billboard, or haven’t, or don’t understand it, just take the time to step outside your comfort zone and just learn about someone else and what they have to deal with."