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Roxbury’s Cooper Center to unveil portraits of black greats

Banner Staff | 9/12/2013, 1:27 p.m.
More than a dozen portraits of African American achievers with ties to Greater Boston and Massachusetts will be shown at ...
Portrait of Soloman Carter Fuller, the first black psychiatrist in the United States.

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Allan Rohan Crite, a Boston-based artist.

More than a dozen portraits of African American achievers with ties to Greater Boston and Massachusetts will be shown at an upcoming Roxbury exhibit opening.

The Roxbury-based Edward L. Cooper Community Garden and Education Center will unveil the permanent exhibit that celebrates pioneers of African descent — both living and dead — who have made a difference in Massachusetts and the world, said Jacqueline Johnson Maloney, member of the board of directors of the Cooper Center.

Located in the heart of Fort Hill, the Community Garden and Center is an intergenerational oasis in an economically diverse and stable community. 

“It is our hope that young people will be inspired to dream big and build on the foundation left by our elders and ancestors,” says Carol Shearer, another board member and a resident of the neighborhood.

The individuals featured in this exhibit stand on the shoulders of the builders of the pyramids, the Washington monument and the African Meeting House in Boston.

The portraits include Boston University School of Medicine-graduate and professor Solomon Carter Fuller — the first black psychiatrist in the United States, Elma Ina Lewis — who founded and operated for more than 30 years a school for the arts for black youth, Amherst College-graduate and blood bank pioneer Dr. Charles Drew and former Mass. State Rep. Mel King — a long-time community organizer and founder of the South End Technology Center of Boston.

The community unveiling and festivities will be held Sept. 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Edward L. Cooper Community Garden and Education Center at 34 Linwood Street in Roxbury. The admission-free event is open to the public and will also feature vendors, food, school-supply giveaways, pony rides and much more.  

Maloney, a long-time Roxbury resident, said the Solomon Trust commissioned the portraits to honor her late mother, Carmen Rubinia Solomon Maloney-Welch of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“When she emigrated from Trinidad, it was her intention to attend medical school,” Maloney said. “Social norms and Caribbean culture required that she stay home and raise her four children. She was extremely gifted and lived vicariously through the educational achievements of her children.

“She loved the arts and sciences and would have been honored to help celebrate these greats,” Maloney added. “This exhibit honors those whose dreams would not be deferred. These men and women have laid a foundation for all Americans to build upon.”

An exceptionally gifted team of high school and college-age graphic designers at South Boston-based Artists for Humanity researched the subjects’ vocations and avocations before producing the computer-aided portraits. Among them was Kenyan-born Hamza Mohamed, 16.

“It’s inspiring to learn how these African Americans strived for success and pursued their dreams,” said Mohamed, a rising sophomore at Boston Latin Academy, who has aspirations of being a professional graphic artist. “It makes me really happy that they found success by following their dreams.” 

The portrait honorees also include Artists for Humanity co-founder and paint studio director Rob D. Gibbs. Gibbs, a critically acclaimed graffiti artist known as “ProBlak,” said it was “surreal” to be part of the focus of the project.

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Lewis Latimer, famed inventor.

“To be mentioned in the same company and context as these forefathers is kind of humbling,” Gibbs said. “It lets me know that my work is not over.”

Organizers say the exhibit also illustrates the significant relationships of math and computer technology to the creation of these paintings.

Alongside the depictions of Gibbs, Drew, Lewis, Fuller and King are paintings of educational advocate and engineer Karl W. Reid, NASA astronaut Ronald E. McNair, internationally renowned artist Allan Rohan Crite, NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, inventor Lewis Latimer, engineer and activist Kenneth Irvin Guscott, Dr. Alice Tolbert Coombs — the Massachusetts Medical Society’s first African American president, Dr. Joan Reed — Harvard Medical School’s first African American female dean, civil rights leader Robert Moses and Dr. Rebecca Crumpler — the first black female physician in the U.S.

The permanently installed exhibit at the Edward Cooper Community Garden and Education Center is available for school and community tours by appointment.