Banner showcases African American history

Published 9:25 pm Thursday, July 18, 2019

A banner featuring a Suffolk native and trailblazer in the health care field has been making the rounds in Virginia in recent months.

The banner, titled “I AM 400,” by artists, and father-son duo, Jerome W. Jones Jr. and Jeromyah Jones features 69 paintings detailing the 400-year history of African Americans in the United States. The art depicts notable African Americans in a variety of fields — household names like Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington and Arthur Ashe as well as others who have made contributions in the fields of medicine, science, law and more.

One of those featured is Suffolk’s Dr. L.D. Britt, a graduate of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health and the Henry Ford Professor of Surgery and Edward J. Brickhouse Chair in Surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Email newsletter signup

Jerome Jones said he got the idea for the banner after several of the Joneses’ paintings were featured in a 2018 exhibit at the Main Street Train Station Gallery in Richmond titled “Prophecy Makes History.”

“I got the idea at the end of that exhibit to feature paintings from that exhibit, as well as others, in a banner to be able to display it in places all around the state as well as, eventually, the country,” he said. “That’s a creative way of sharing our history with the public so they can understand the contributions of African Americans in America.”

Many of the paintings were created about 40 years ago, Jeromyah Jones said, although several are more recent. The oldest painting in the banner is from 1975.

“It basically chronicles or gives a visible synopsis of African Americans’ journey and gives a spectrum of who we are and what we can be,” Jeromyah Jones said.

The original painting of Dr. Britt was created in 2000 by the elder Jones. He spent a day with Britt in his office, touring the hospital, working with medical students and in the operating room.

“That painting was a collage of photographs I took and painted from,” Jones said. “Dr. Britt is definitely an inspiration, and I appreciate the great work that he does. He is such a cornerstone in the community not just in Suffolk, but the great work he’s done is known throughout the world.” He added that Britt is an art collector and supporter.

Britt, in turn, said he appreciates the Joneses’ work because it portrays positive images of African Americans.

“They put on canvas achievement and positive images in a community that was often not seen,” Britt said. “That was the legacy that they established, and it should be embraced. They wanted to emphasize achievement, and they consistently did that when other people did not see that. They should be applauded.”

Jeromyah Jones said there are multiple copies of the banner, and they have been shown at multiple locations across Virginia, including public and university libraries, public schools, festivals and more. One sheriff’s office even acquired one permanently to hang in the jail, he said.

“That was an amazing acquisition,” Jeromyah Jones said. “The sheriff saw the importance of the inmates seeing images of themselves that were empowering.”

The Joneses said they see the banner as an inspirational teaching tool.

“It’s an educational tool,” Jerome Jones said. “It’s teaching history, it’s teaching culture, it’s showing the importance of art being a universal language.”

“The more people see images that reflect our many facets instead of just stereotyping us and marginalizing us, there will be a greater respect for our history,” Jeromyah Jones said. “I look at my father and I as artistic neurosurgeons. Through our imagery, we want to make mental incisions for viewers to make better decisions when it comes to engaging with those that don’t look like themselves. That’s just like a surgeon cutting out misperceptions.”