On the day that Johnson C. Smith University celebrated its 152nd anniversary, the institution unveiled a new exhibit exploring West Charlotte’s Black history through the lens of Afrofuturism in the face of ongoing gentrification.
RCLM 37 (pronounced Reclaim 37) is an experiential history project series created in partnership with the university’s James B. Duke Library and the Levine Museum of the New South. It narrates the past through archived photos and oral histories, captures the present-day tone and reimagines the future stories of Black spaces within the Beatties Ford Road corridor. The project was funded through Arts and Science Council’s Culture Blocks partnership.
“My hope is that with this exhibit, RCLM 37, we are giving a voice to our long-term residents and that we are providing a historical perspective to the new and incoming residents as this community and culture transforms,” said Monika Rhue, director of library services and curation at JCSU.
Janelle Dunlap, creative director for RCLM 37, is a social justice creative. Her work in Afrofuturism can be seen as part of a mural collaboration series at the site of the Rosa Parks Farmers Market, across the street from Mosaic Village in Historic West End. Afrofuturism is a movement in literature, music and other art forms, featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of Black history and culture.
“The direction of this project is inspired by the elder community, but it’s for the vision of the future,” Dunlap said as she described how RCLM 37 uses technology to display archived images onto screens.
She enlisted assistance from Charlotte music and visual artists including rapper Elevator Jay, producer Lavonte “FLLS” Hines, designer and illustrator Marcus Kiser, and videographer Kevin “Surf” Mitchell.
To help set the mood for the unveiling, rhythmic sounds of African drummers served as a backdrop as guests joined guided tours wearing noise-canceling bluetooth headphones playing the exhibit’s soundtrack.
While the exhibit pays homage to the Beatties Ford Road corridor, much more will be needed to slow insatiable redevelopment of the neighborhoods near center city.
“History can’t just live in the walls of an institution,” Dunlap said.
Unfortunately, neither can calls to action against gentrification in Charlotte’s age of urban renewal.
Kallan Louis is a writer and consultant for qcitymetro.com. He does a lot, but never feels like he’s doing enough. His life can be described as a Venn Diagram: News media, Black culture and sports. He’s always on TV, but rarely seen.