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South Salt Lake Journal

Students create ‘a beloved community’ through photographs

Mar 04, 2024 11:44AM ● By Jesse M. Gonzalez

Sixth graders and middle school students have their photographic works displayed at the Eccles Art Gallery in South Salt Lake City. (Jesse M. Gonzalez/City Journals)

Salt Lake Community College’s George S. & Dolores Doré Eccles Art Gallery hosted the Beloved Community Photography Project and exhibit open house on Feb. 13 for its ninth year in celebration of Black History month. The project is seen through the eyes of local sixth graders and middle school students to convey their personal meaning of a “beloved community.”

The term, “Beloved Community,” was originally coined by theologian and philosopher Josiah Royce and made popular by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a member of Royce’s Fellowship of Reconciliation. It means to live in harmony, and as King said in a 1957 speech, Birth of a New Nation, “The aftermath of nonviolence in the creation of the beloved community.”

“Basically, the students are given a camera and they’re just basically told to go out and take pictures of their community, what they love about their community, and I think it’s great—it always impresses me,” said Paulette Nemelka, a sixth-grade teacher at Whittier Elementary which neighbors SLCC’s south city campus.

Cameras for the students are supplied by Salt Lake Community College specifically for the project. For a week, students are able to take as many pictures as they’d like, and then each student will decide on one picture from a selection that the college chooses. The two schools currently involved in the project and exhibit are Whittier Elementary and Glendale Middle School.

The project was started by Richard Scott, the dean of arts, communication & media, and Josh Elstein, the project manager of the center for arts and media. “Mr. Josh Elstein approached me and we were the first school to do it nine years ago,” Nemelka said. “We’ve been doing it ever since. We even did it during the COVID year.” 

An important figure of the event was Marian Howe-Taylor, a special projects manager for the college with a historical connection with the civil rights movement in the 1960s. 

“My parents were—my grandparents and extended family—very involved in civil rights…my parents marched with him [Martin Luther King], my father in particular,” said Howe-Taylor, who was given the Outstanding Achievement Award for social justice at YWCA Utah’s LeaderLuncheon, an annual fundraising event. 

Part of Howe-Taylor’s job is to visit classrooms and share her stories of growing up in Boston and her family’s involvement in civil rights as well as the historical march with King.  Howe-Taylor also wanted to help students understand and artistically capture what a “beloved community” means to them.

“The history is: my mother’s cousin Dr. Virgil Wood worked closely with King, and he was one of the trainers for nonviolent civil action in Boston,” Howe-Taylor said. “My father was trained by Virgil and others, and participated in the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge…and in 1963, I thought we were at the march, but we watched it on television. So I just have this memory of hearing King’s voice and hearing the messages of nonviolence, you know, how to be compassionate, how to withstand hatred. 

“My father and others—which I still can’t believe how they did this—were trained to withstand being hosed, having police dogs, you know, bite you; having somebody come up behind you at a lunch counter and put their cigarette out on your head, you know, just horrific stuff.” Howe-Taylor sighed and took a breath, looking down at the chair in which she sat.

“When I asked my father just before he died in 2020, ‘Why did you go? Why’d you go to the Edmund Pettus Bridge?’ The night before the march…there were people killed. And my father said, ‘I was willing to give my life if it meant that you and your siblings would have a better one.’ And that’s still something I wrestle with because I don’t know if I could do that,” Taylor-Howe said. “My father was Theodore Howe.”

Students, parents, teachers and faculty members looked at the photographs hung on the walls of the gallery, including the artists’ statements that showcased their experiences and notions of their “beloved” community, a concept that Martin Luther King, Jr. protested for.   

“I was just reading some of them, and I was so impressed with what some of the kids—they go really deep, how they tied a community to what they love,” said Nemelka, whose elementary school garnered 80 sixth graders to participate in the photography project.

Sixth-grader Micah, who took a photo of a guide sign on the border of Yellowstone National Park on a family vacation, a seemingly important place for him, angled to also capture the trees and a half murky and half sunlit sky, has a similar hobby outside of school. “I have a video camera at home. I also have a tripod. I do some small things with movies,” said Micah, though he would like to be a “board game designer” when he is older.

“It’s important for students, especially at such a ripe age to take in that kind of information and be able to understand it and figure out a way to express their concepts of a beloved community and try to bring awareness and make change,” said Whitney Hyans, a professor at Salt Lake Community College who teaches photography.

The students will get to return their photos back to their affiliated schools once the exhibit ends and hang them up so the younger grades can “see what they can look forward to in sixth grade and see the great artists with the camera,” Nemelka said. “We love it! My kids always look forward to it.”

“We’re gonna keep it going and hopefully draw more schools and get more schools involved,” Hyans said. “We got some talented, talented photographers, and their artist statements too are really touching and amazing.”

“I think it’s needed,” Howe-Taylor said. “The conversation about social change and nonviolent civil action. I think all of that is relevant.” λ