The portraits displayed inside Craven Community College’s Orringer Hall depict an array of different subjects, from students to professors, entrepreneurs to pastors, business leaders to public servants. All of them are recognized for having a positive influence on the community. And the photos’ subjects share something else in common – they’re all black men.
New Bern resident and entrepreneur Aahmese King’s portrait is among the 27 photos displayed in the exhibit. He intentionally wore a “baggy jacket” in his photo to challenge the misperception that young black men who wear hoodies or other loose-fitting clothing are criminals, King said.
“If you could see me dress like that, but then you could hear me get in front of all these people and speak positive, articulate myself and know what I’m talking about, then your perception of me is going to change,” King said. “It’s going to have to change because you’re going to be like, ‘Well, that’s not what I thought would come out of his mouth.’”
Challenging the negative stereotypes of black men often portrayed in the media is the goal of the Black Light Project, a Greenville-based film and photography project that spotlights positive images of black men in the community. The project has expanded to Craven County, with the Coastal Photo Club photographing 27 local men in locations throughout the county. Their portraits are on display at Craven Community College.
“These are black males who have so much light in them, and they are truly lighting up our world in a great way,” said founder Tonya Lynch, in a video on the project’s YouTube channel. “But the media narrative often focuses on what they are not doing, who they are not, what they are not contributing. And I want to challenge that through this project.”
The exhibit in Craven County opened with a screening of the Black Light Project film, which features interviews with the project’s original subjects in Greenville, followed by a panel discussion with local residents. Aahmese King, who was on the panel, says he was pleased with the turnout, but he wished more young people had attended.
“The ones that need to see it, didn’t see it,” King said. “So, if there’s a way that we could come together and get the young people together to see these positive images and get to know the positive men that’s around them who could help them, I think that would be awesome.”