For Black History Month, teacher Peter Tobia sent his University of the Arts photojournalism class out into the streets of Philadelphia with cameras to seek out and talk to people they didn't know about the meaning of the observance. Students also photographed family and acquaintances
"The idea behind the project," says Tobia, "was to get students to understand other cultures and explore ethnicity beyond what is familiar to them. In a small way it was moving beyond a person's comfort zone and opening up the circle to include rather than exclude. The students were challenged also by seeking out people they didn't know, talking with them and eventually asking if they could be photographed, which can be a very intimidating experience for both subject and photographer. The project was an exercise in making accurate portraits of people and gathering accurate information.”
Akenshai Towns, 29, Queens, NY. Photography student at University of the Arts.
"I feel indifferent towards Black History Month, but it is important to celebrate or reflect on those who took a stand. It is more of a hindrance than help towards racial equality. It makes people seem forced into it... Black History should be integrated in with the rest of history."
Indirn Jimenez, 18, West Hartford, CT. Photojournalism student Temple University.
"It is important to learn about the struggles and being sub-human to now being part of society that is now human. I feel everyone should learn about Black History because if you don't we can't move on as a society. You can't just limit it to one month but it is significant for the African American race to be recognized throughout the year along with this month."
Dana Saragnese, 20, Voorhees, NJ. Graphic Design student Drexel University.
"I think of Black History as American History. It's all the same to me."
PHOTO SET BY THEODORE APOSTOLACUS
Lena Santiago, 40, Cheltenham, PA, registered nurse
“People are people. We live in this country as neighbors with little to no difficulty, but it is still important to educate ourselves of the struggles that our ancestors endured so that we can appreciate where we are now.”
Jaasim Shahid, 22, Bensalem, PA, Drexel University student
“It is just as important to recognize Black History Month as it is any other culture.”
Anne Loisch, 55, Philadelphia, PA, retired pediatric nurse
“It is important because it makes people aware, so that history doesn’t repeat itself.”
Alyssa Hargrove, 21, University of the Arts student
“To me, it is a shadow of something that used to be great…it’s been deduced to the fading memories that I have in elementary school, where the teachers made it a point to reiterate that February is Black History Month."
PHOTO SET BY CHELSEA DEJESUS
Becca Syracuse, Age 19, Illustration Major at The University
“If people didn’t take the time to focus one month on Black History it would probably be neglected. History is important we need to help people become informed.”
Tenea Kennedy, Age 21, Voice Major at The University of the Arts
"Black History Month is a celebration of knowledge. It represents the past, present and future of the African American Culture. It's a reminder of all the positive and innovative things that have come from our culture and how it made a huge impact on future generations. It is an inviting time for everyone to experience culture and the roots of many things that have evolved from African American decent. It’s also a time to inform people who may not be exposed to African American History the rest of the year. We take the time to remember the hardships and struggle, but it doesn't stop there. It's a remembrance of what we strive for and how the ones before us have paved a way for the things we have today."
Richard Watson, Age 66, Curator of Exhibitions at the African American History Museum
“Working at this museum, we have black history month all throughout the year. Black History Month is a celebration for the uninformed, it helps wash away the black stereotypes people have and show the contributions and merits of those overlooked. Where is the cutoff point for history? We’re still making history. “
PHOTO SET BY KRISTEN HOM
Edwin Moya Lopez, Colombian Journalist
"They (African Americans) fought a lot for something that is more than just freedom and civil rights. They fought for equality and the truth is that there is not that much nowadays. But culturally the legacy of black history in the US is huge."
PHOTO SET BY GABRIELA BARRANTES
Reggie Stokes, 27, Washington Township, New Jersey, Visual Manager of City Sports in Philadelphia
"I'm too young to fully appreciate the struggles that African Americans had to endure, but I acknowledge my family's struggles and am stronger for it. I have never felt like I was second-class."
Eric Shetter, 23, Philadelphia, Student at the University of the Arts
"The African American civil rights movement was the precursor to every other civil rights movement. It gives me hope that one day I can get married, and be treated fairly too."
PHOTO SET BY JUSTIN KUTNER
Connor O’Brien, 20, Williamstown, NJ. Lead singer of the band, Your Killing Me Smalls.
"All modern music stems from African American musical influences. Black History month is a great reminder of where music came from."
Joshua Wilson, 29, South Philadelphia
"Black History month should be more of a time to remember all of the different cultures that went through struggles to get to where they are now, instead of focusing on one culture."
PHOTO SET BY CAROLINE LEUSNER
Elisha Schoonmaker, 28, of Norristown, PA. Singer with the Philadelphia street punk band, Combat Crisis.
"When I think of an answer, another question comes to mind. Why? Why do we celebrate Black History Month? Why is it only one month? Why don't we celebrate other heritages like we do this month? Why did they choose February?"
Billy Barton, 34, of Philadelphia, PA. Bassist with the Philadelphia punk band, Population Zero.
"It's great to learn about another culture, even if it isn't our own. By learning all aspects of history, we gain knowledge and knowledge is power."
PHOTO SET BY SAMANTHA MOSS
Anabelle Rodriguez, 39, Queen Village Section of Philadphia. Art history teacher at the University of the Arts and Temple University.
"Black History month is important because it’s a form of historical revision. Many of African Americans who made inventions had an affect on society and achievements and should be recognized. Those who had such a great affect on society should be taught in school mainly because she is part African American and she feels like children should know about African American History."
Jermel Wilson, 25, of Darby, Pennsylvania. Dining Hall Cook at the University of the Arts.
"Black History should not just be acknowledged for one month but for the whole year. There are too many African Americans that are unaccredited for their achievements. The month doesn't matter, its the equality and acknowledgement what's important to me."
PHOTO SET BY DUONG NGUYEN
Joelle Burgos, 19, with Brendan Tran, 1 year-old. Burgos is a student at Northern Virginia Community College, Virginia.
“Black History Month is important to me in order to praise all the African Americans that have impacted our lives in little and big ways. This month was put into effect in order to remember and acknowledge all the accomplishments and inventions. For example, Garrett Morgan, who was an African American, invented the traffic light. I think things like this are important times in history to remember and appreciate.”
Anton Perkins, 53, left, of Sterling, VA. Perkins is a defense contractor for the United States government. Sam Jones is at right.
“As an African-American, I feel Black History Month is important. It is important because to know our history is to accept the realities of our strengths and the courage we have to face the realities and dangers that befell our ancestors and of today. Our heritage is a collage of artifacts that make me proud of our accomplishments as a people. To not know your history is to be lost. I will not be lost again.”
Andrew Lawson 19, vocal major at University of the Arts in Philadelphia PA
“To be honest Black History month doesn’t really mean anything to me because I appreciate the accomplishments and leadership that were done before me on a regular basis. I do think it is important for those who don’t take the time to realize that the world we live in now would not be the same without the contributions from those who came before us in the black community."
PHOTO SET BY ASHLYN PERKINS