Black History Month Celebration Recognizes Stories Told Through Art

By Chris Carmody

The event, “Celebrating African American History Month: Art as a Platform for Social Justice,” was organized by the Diversity and Inclusion Engagement Subcommittee of the UAMS Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DDEI).

This year, Black History Month commemorations across the United States embraced the theme of “African Americans and the Arts,” exploring the creativity, resilience and innovation of Black artists. Brian Gittens, Ed.D., MPA, vice chancellor of DDEI, said Black artists have used their talents to preserve history and to ensure that the experiences of their community are never forgotten.

“Today, we celebrate African American artists who use their platform to aid others in understanding history, struggle and, ultimately, triumph,” Gittens said. “Through their work, these artists mobilize people to create a better world.”

Paige Jones-Brooks, M.D., a resident in the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, performs a dance to the song “Stand Up.”

Paige Jones-Brooks, M.D., a resident in the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, performs a dance to the song “Stand Up.”Image by Evan Lewis

Anthony Drake, administrative analyst for DDEI, led the audience through a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Paige Jones-Brooks, M.D., a resident in the UAMS Department of Pediatrics, performed a dance to the song “Stand Up.” And To’Shecka Turner, clinical director for the UAMS Department of Environmental Services, recited an original spoken-word poem called “Social Justice.”

Rex Deloney, chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Little Rock Central High School, served as the event’s keynote speaker. Deloney described the inspiration that led him to create “Brothers by One: The Black Athlete and Social Justice,” a series of 40 paintings that symbolize the ways Black athletes use their platform to shed light on social issues.

Deloney uses a technique known as abstract realism, in which he creates vivid and colorful backgrounds and then paints portraits or figurative works on top of them. He employs bold colors to enhance the emotional impact of the pieces.

His works feature trailblazing athletes such as boxers Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali and tennis star Arthur Ashe. One piece depicts former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick alongside the late civil-rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

Deloney created the series in 2020, and some of his works reflect the social justice protests that rippled across the nation that year. He portrayed athletes’ responses to the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, and he noted the challenge of conveying the significance of that moment in history.

“I could hardly finish these images before more things were happening; more people were losing their lives because of violence and injustice,” he said.

This year’s event was UAMS’ first in-person commemoration of Black History Month since 2020. As attendees enjoyed lunch from K. Hall & Sons Produce, a Black-owned business in Little Rock, Gittens expressed gratitude for the opportunity to celebrate the occasion with colleagues and friends.

“It’s good to be back,” he said.